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Marlon James speaks

Jamaican-born author will talk about what books inspired him

Jamaican-born author Marlon James is well-known for his 2014 novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. Photo courtesy of University of Puget Sound

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The University of Puget Sound, the small undergraduate liberal arts college in Tacoma, will continue its "Susan Resneck Pierce Lectures in Public Affairs and the Arts" series when it welcomes award-winning Jamaican-born author Marlon James at 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 29, in Schneebeck Concert Hall.

James is most prominently known for his recent novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, in which he tells the story of the 1976 attempted assassination of Bob Marley, the Jamaican reggae musician. James, in telling the story, immerses his prose in fact and fiction. The story is told through the voices of different characters that include spies, ghosts, musicians and gangsters. The novel debuted in 2014. In 2015, James' work was awarded the United Kingdom's Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

James' earlier books, John Crow's Devil and The Book of Night Women, also received numerous accolades.

Liz Collins, a University of Puget Sound spokeswoman, said the college is excited to welcome James.

"‘The Pierce Lectures', Puget Sound's premier lecture series, attract preeminent artists and leaders who have made an impact in various areas of public life," Collins said. "(James) is remarkable for his artistic achievements, not only as the first Jamaican winner of the Man Booker Prize, but also as a (professor) at Macalester College, and for his unique voice."

James, 45, will present a talk titled, "The Books That Made Me Write Books," in which he will share how, as a young boy in an all-boys school in Kingston, he immersed himself in the books of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain to save himself from the constant fear of being accused of being gay.

At 28, after returning home from the University of the West Indies, James attempted to find sanctuary and escape in the church. But instead of turning to the Bible, James read Salman Rushdie's Shame. It was this book that transformed his perspective on life.

In a New York Times essay, James recounted: "I had never read anything like it. It was like a hand grenade inside a tulip ... It made me realize that the present was something I could write my way out of."

The first novel James wrote at age 34 was John Crow's Devil. He wrote it while working for a Jamaican advertising firm. Two years later, a job offer came from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  The job offer at an American college campus gave him his longed-for wish to escape the island.

Once in America, James was free to think and dress as he wished, and also, more importantly, to write freely. He readily admits that his writings about Jamaica would shock the Jamaican people, especially for its unyielding honesty about the nation's people, its history and its politics.

"It's time that we talk about all of this stuff," James told Vogue magazine, in a 2015 interview.

Pierce Lectures presents Marlon James, 8 p.m., Tuesday, March 29, University of Puget Sound's Schneebeck Concert Hall, 1500 N. Warner St., Tacoma, $20/general admission, 253.879.3100, tickets.pugetsound.edu

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