Marlon James is Jamaica’s first openly gay author, but more than that, he is one of the most prolific and recognized Caribbean authors of this generation. He is a critically acclaimed novelist and professor who lives in Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota and his third novel, “A Brief History of Seven Killings”, was just awarded the prestigious Man Booker Prize for 2015. The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel published in English.
In continuing discussions with some of the Caribbean’s out personalities, Out Caribe recently had the opportunity to ask Marlon a few questions, and we are more than happy to share the discussion below:
Out Caribe (OC): You came out publicly in the New York Times in March this year. Why then? And why the New York Times?
Marlon James (MJ): There was no real plan. NY Times contacted me about writing a personal essay, with the subhead “Voyage of the Will,” and that’s really what came out. Sure, it’s a coming out, but for me the bigger story was me realizing that I didn’t have to accept my reality as it was, that I could write my way from one reality to the next, and that I had what it took to do so.
OC: How were you feeling in the first moments of it going live to the world?
MJ: It was strange. Once I write something it’s really no longer mine, but it was still a shock to see how quickly it was co-opted, discussed, attacked, celebrated, refuted, embraced etc. After a while I had to just shut myself off from all the noise, because good or bad one can get lost in all that.
OC: Pride events are growing across the Caribbean – Curacao, Dominican Republic, Suriname and now even Jamaica. What are your thoughts on that?
MJ: They should grow even more. I still think that for people who wont budge on these issues, “A Day Without the Gay,” where LGBT people and their allies would just not show up for work one day would be powerful. And because it’s LGBT AND straight allies, nobody could tell who is who!
OC: For individuals like yourself that leave their home country and gain global recognition and fame – do you think that hurts or helps the region‘s LGBT right
MJ: I really don’t know, but I’m sure there are people who have a strong opinion on it. I do know that people like myself and Stacey would rather a profile where kids from all over, including Jamaica can feel inspired and appreciated, than no profile at all. Everything helps. I’m not in the business of judging what helps and what doesn’t and who gets to decide that
OC: Are you surprised that the Caribbean Gay Icons who’ve made huge global names
for themselves are all from Jamaica and live abroad?
MJ: Is that true? I’m not sure. And remember Caribbean means more than anglo. There is no Anglo Caribbean Ricky Martin, no anglo Reinaldo Arenas, no Wilson Cruz.
OC: Many refer to you as a Caribbean Gay Icon – does that resonate with you?
MJ: Not really. Any more than Black Icon resonates with a prominent Black personality. I love that I’m inspiring people, especially writers, but I’m too busy working.
OC: Do you believe your global status and achievements makes you immune to most
kinds of homophobia? Are you intimidated by the Caribbean region as an out gay
MJ: Of course I’m intimidated, but I’m also protected by social and artistic privilege. You can be immune if you’re a Rex Nettleford, or a rich gay dude, but for a poor or middle class person, not so much. And nobody is ever really immune. Gay men are still getting shot in the face in New York, there is still too much stigma against HIV for no reason. Job discrimination. Some stores want a legal right to discriminate. It isn’t over.
OC: You’ve been living in the United States for almost 10 years, but visit your home in
Jamaica frequently. How has the island and the experience of it changed for you?
MJ: Here’s the thing about Jamaica. Every time I return, it’s exactly as I left it. A sentence like that gains its power from staying vague. You know what I mean, everybody knows what I mean, but you can’t really explain it
OC: You just signed deals with both HBO and BBC to develop a series based on your
best selling book, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Apart from delivering incredible
storytelling on significant elements of times in Jamaica in the 70s and 80s, some of
the stories also feature lots of gay sex. What was the response to those moments
like? Any plans on filming in Jamaica for authenticity?
MJ: People have been strangely quiet about it, on both sides of the Atlantic. Maybe that [is] just because it a good sex scene. As for filming I Jamaica, that’s really up to Jamaica. Authenticity is the job not of the country but a skillful art director. All that New York grit that you saw in the 70’s was shot in Vancouver.
OC: What next can we expect from Marlon James?
MJ: More work, a series of books, and hopefully some TV shows.
Given this recent award, it’s highly likely that we’ll be seeing a lot more work from this history maker.
additional discussion on Nationwide radio: