Marlon James: “I present violence with honesty, it’s something we have to see” – Livres Hebdo

Weekly Books: Your book presents several maps of the world of Black leopard, red wolfmade by you, do you have other talents?

Marlon James: Oh my god, I hope (laughs). To make these cards, I had to relearn how to use Photoshop. I was a graphic designer, illustrator and art director, notably for singer Sean Paul, for whom I designed album covers. Otherwise I am a very bad singer.

Our pre-critical said of your work that it was inspired stories present in the oral traditions of different African countries (of the Omo valleys, of the Niger river, of the Songhai empire, etc.) “. Do you agree with this analysis?

Yes quite. I also drew on stories from the Kingdom of Segu, the Empire of Ghana, and many of the quotes in the book are based on the town of Timbuktu. These places inspire me because, and although I am undoubtedly Jamaican, I am also from West Africa, my ancestors came by slave ship. On the other hand, the second volume takes place mainly in South Africa.

What is your attic of legends and myths filled with? How did you put it together?

I immersed myself in West African myths, in stories of griots from Senegal and Nigeria. I have studied many African epics, such as those of the ruler Sundiata. I read some historical books, but not very much because the European history of Africa is in my eyes racist and idiotic. There are also writers who fed me like Bessie Head, Chinua Achebe, Amos Tutuola…

According to some critics, your book is violent, sometimes gory. What do you think ?

I don’t necessarily find my book to be gory. I present violence with honesty because I consider that it is something that should be seen and disturbed. This violence existed in any case in the historical context of my book. Besides, fantasy doesn’t prevent the story from being linked to the reality that my characters experience.

“I’m thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, André Gide”

Has your life as a writer changed since receiving the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2015 for A brief history of seven murders (Albin Michel, 2016)?

I feel more observed and followed since. People pay attention to what I prepare. But it doesn’t affect what I produce because if you start writing thinking about what the audience expects, it compromises you. Personally I would not be happy in this situation. And I consider myself lucky that people continue to be interested in what I do, because my only motivation is to write what I want to read.

How can such a well-known author, one of the most influential personalities in the world according to Time Magazinedoes he work with publishing houses while keeping his spirit, his freedom and his independence?

The publishing houses leave me alone and do not interfere. It was more complicated when I had to write for television. Sometimes, I was in a room with about fifteen people who constantly wanted to change my text, all having an opinion on what I should modify… The road is hard to be notorious, to keep attention, to build this career. In a way, I think I deserved this tranquility too.

What is your relationship with French feathers?

I am thinking of Jean-Paul Sartre, Jean Genet, but also André Gide and his book If the grain does not die, which was very important to me. I adore Jean-Claude Izzo and Jean-Patrick Manchette for their noir novels. What I like about French writers is that they talk about themselves without pretension while remaining true. What American authors still can’t do I find… And then the fact of being black also led me to other authors like Maryse Condé, Alain Mabanckou, Aimé Césaire and Negritude. I studied Frantz Fanon during my sociology classes when I was at university and James Baldwin, who helped shape me into who I am.

How are your relations with the Albin Michel house?

It’s terrible… (laughs). They believe in my work. They were very meticulous with the translation. They contacted me several times to point out mistakes in the book in English. The translator spent a lot of time, asked a multitude of questions. It’s a good relationship, and I’m motivated by his interest in my projects.

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Marlon James: “I present violence with honesty, it’s something we have to see” – Livres Hebdo