Unless you live under a twitter rock you will have seen that Marlon James has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. He is the first Jamaican, and, from the sound of things, the first author to use so many swear words to win the prize. We’re so excited about the swear words we might even be willing to overlook the 1/3 representation of woman authors on the short list (we had a good run at it Hilary Mantel; waiting for your trifecta with The Mirror and the Light! And, let’s face it, more of the PBS series…)
Prizes are an essential part of the writing world–they mark you down as a serious author even when ‘Fifty Shades of this Week’s Fad’ is outselling you by a thousand percent; they are part of what keeps small presses and small bookstores in business, and they are part of the way we honor authors and weed through some of the thousands of new releases. And, with no disrespect intended to all white male authors out there, here are two reasons we’re so excited the prize winner is not a white man:
- The stories of ‘the other’ are more likely to be genre-ized (I’m sure that’s a word). Work by women is chick lit, work by people of color are ‘immigrant stories’, etc.; there is deemed to be no literary market for their stories. Look at Ursula K. LeGuin, a prolific and powerful writer who’s been being published since the 60s and is only now in the last decade collecting major non-genre awards. Highbrow continues to be unfortunately white and male.
- Along with the award comes a greater visibility of your entire body of work. Honors like the Nobel Prize and Poet Laureate positions, not to mention fat speaking fees, endowed chairs, and plum visiting professorship gigs are based on an author’s entire oeuvre, so if women and people of color aren’t being recognized for the ‘regular’ awards they won’t be selected for these major positions.
So, congrats to Mr. James on his win and to the prize committee for the racial diversity of the shortlist (more women, more women, more women!). And we’ll read A Brief History of Seven Killings as soon as we have time to sit down with all nearly 700 pages of it; better make it an e-book or you may end up with carpal tunnel.