Marlon James

(P1) AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: It will come to be seen as a classic of our times. That’s what judges of the PRESTIGIOUS MAN BOOKER PRIZE have said about this year’s winner, “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” The novel is an EPIC reimagining of the ASSASSINATION attempt on the singer Bob Marley in the Kingston of the 1970s. Marlon James is the author. He’s the first Jamaican-born writer to win the prize. We reached him earlier today in London.

(P2) MARLON JAMES: Thank you. This is – it’s amazing. It’s still shocking and totally SURREAL.

(P3) CORNISH: I read that you originally ENVISIONED “A Brief History Of Seven Killings” as a short crime book.

(P4) JAMES: Yes.

(P5) CORNISH: Seven hundred pages later…


(P7) CORNISH: …What happened?

(P8) JAMES: When I was writing the novel, I really did think it was one story. What happens is, every time I did one story, I ran into a DEAD END, and I’d pick another story and run into a dead end, and pick another story. And I kept doing this until a friend of mine said to me, you know, why do you think this novel is one person’s story? I think that’s when I FIGURED OUT that it was a multiple-person NARRATIVE. And maybe it was good or bad, but by then, I had written hundreds of pages. I just had to figure out how all the stories worked together.

(P9) CORNISH: And I understand this is actually your third novel, right? I mean…

(P10) JAMES: Yes.

(P11) CORNISH: …Your career had a bit of a BUMPY start. What kind of rejection did you experience when you first tried to get published?

(P12) JAMES: Well, you know, my first novel, “John Crow’s Devil,” which was eventually published, was TURNED DOWN by quite a few people – well, more than quite a few – around 78 publishers and agents and…

(P13) CORNISH: Wait. Wait a second. Seventy-eight’s a very specific number. So your first book, which was published in 2005, “John Crow’s Devil,” you’re saying, was rejected 78 times.

(P14) JAMES: Yeah.

(P15) CORNISH: Did you sit down and count?

(P16) JAMES: I didn’t count when I was doing it, or I probably would’ve stopped at 30.

(P17) CORNISH: Well, do you have any advice out there for the writers who may also be experiencing a little bit of rejection?

(P18) JAMES: Yeah, you know, “CATCH-22” was rejected 48 times. I mean, there are lots of stories out there of books and novels and stories and poems that go through rounds and rounds of rejection. Don’t lose sight that you are doing good work and you have something to say.

(P19) CORNISH: That’s Marlon James. His novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” has won this year’s Man Booker Prize. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

(P20) JAMES: Thanks for having me.

WORDS: 469



If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. Marlon James’s first novel was rejected by 78 publishers before a publisher accepted it. Do you think you could have been as PERSISTENT as he was?
  3. James’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings is not brief at all – the title is IRONIC. It is more than 700 pages long. Do you like very long books?
  4. The novel, like some other contemporary novels and movies, tells the stories of many characters who do not know each other but whose lives connect in UNEXPECTED ways. Do you like that type of story?
  5. This piece is an INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT. Do you read or listen to many interviews?


What do the following expressions mean? Practice using each expression in a sentence; extra points if you can use it in conversation.

  • Dead end
  • Figure out
  • Turn down
  • Interview transcript

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