You are here

Marlon James's Jamaicas

Marlon James's Jamaicas

Marlon James, the reigning Man Booker winner, was back in his home island of Jamaica recently and talking about the struggles he faced there as a gay man. James, who now lives, writes and teaches in America, has spoken freely about his sexuality in the past and about attitudes towards homosexuals in the Caribbean and he thinks that people might now have a distorted opinion of the place as a result. The international media, he said at an event at the Calabash International Literary Festival, has ‘a narrative that Jamaica is a place where these anti-gay Gestapos are running around killing people that they are just so desperate to get that narrative’. The truth is much more nuanced, he claimed: ‘The thing about Jamaica, for such a small country, is that there are 10 different Jamaicas and the one you live in is not necessarily the one that everyone else lives in.’ And some of those different Jamaicas are more tolerant than others. For all his conflicted feelings about the country he added that ‘I can step into Jamaica with a sense of entitlement because I am entitled to my country.’

In a nice instance of role reversal, one of James's duties at the festival was to award a prize rather than receive one. He handed over a £5,000 cheque to Parashar Kulkarni, winner of the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize (for the best piece of unpublished short fiction in English), for his serio-comic tale Cow and Company. Kulkarni's story features four men who are looking for a cow to star in an advertisement for chewing gum. It not only beat 4,000 other applicants but is the first story Kulkarni has written.

Congratulations to Sunjeev Sahota whose Man Booker Prize 2015 shortlisted The Year of the Runaways has just won the South Bank Sky Arts Award for literature. The endearingly reticent Sahota found himself in rather less shy and retiring company with Eddie Izzard, Melvyn Bragg, the rapper (for those of you who don't know) Stormzy among the other gong garnerers. To show some Man Booker solidarity, Sahota received his prize from Monica Ali, Man Booker Prize shortlisted in 2003 for Brick Lane.

Anne Tyler, a 2015 Man Booker Prize shortlistee and a 2011 Man Booker International Prize contender too, risks the wrath of the world's Bardophiles. Tyler's Vinegar Girl, her take on The Taming of the Shrew for the Shakespeare project in which modern writers rewrite a Shakespeare play, is just about to be published. Tyler approached the task not altogether willingly. ‘Face it, his plots are terrible,’ she claimed. Sacrilege. Cue stunned silence. ‘But then I thought, “Well, at least I wouldn’t have to come up with one of my own.”’ Tyler's gentle but profound fiction rarely features shrewish women but there's clearly a touch of no-nonsense assertiveness in her make-up.

The stage adaptation of serial Man Booker shortlistee Sarah Waters's The Night Watch (Man Booker Prize shortlisted 2006) is currently running at the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester. It has been garnering rave reviews. The latest, in the Guardian, praises the way ‘the production expertly captures the surge of empowerment experienced by many women during the Second World War’ and notes that ‘though no stage adaptation could express the novel’s entire range, this at least makes a persuasive claim to its heart’. The play runs until 16 June.

Marlon James