Two senior literature critics have showered praise on author Marlon James who, along with cosmetics doyenne, Britain-born Pat McGrath, is one of two Jamaicans listed by TIME Magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world.
The last Jamaican to be on the list was former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was so designated in 2012, after her then ruling People’s National Party’s blowout victory at the December 2011 polls to become Jamaican’s first elected woman prime minister.
Last week, when James was designated, it did not come as a surprise to retired University of the West Indies professor of literature and culture specialist, Carolyn Cooper.
“James’ first novel, John Crow’s Devil, set in rural Jamaica, was rejected 78 times! In frustration, he destroyed the manuscript. Fortunately, it was salvaged from an old computer. The Calabash International Literary Festival gave James his big break. His participation in a writers’ workshop and his self-assured performance on the open mic persuaded Akashic Books, an independent publisher in Brooklyn, New York, to accept his manuscript,” Cooper told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.
“His award-winning second novel, The Book of Night Women, confirmed his uncompromising commitment to representing Jamaican culture in all its complexity. His authoritative use of the Jamaican language engaged adventurous readers. Winning the 2015 Man Booker prize for the hefty novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, was the defining moment of James’ career. In his fourth novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first in the Dark Star trilogy, Marlon James imagines a world of fantasy on the African continent where history and myth coexist. James’ fabled rise to literary superstardom is a parable of hope for every Jamaican with big dreams,” according to Cooper.
She said James’ stellar literary career exemplifies the global reach of the distinctive culture of a small island state and displayed the prowess of Jamaicans to excel in many fields.
Annie Paul, publications editor at the UWI and editor-in-chief of PREE, a new online magazine of Caribbean writing, said James has raised the bar and expanded the scope not only for Caribbean writers but for authors everywhere.
“Marlon James is a tour de force in the world of writing because of his inventiveness, the scale of his ambition, and his willingness to make daring leaps without worrying about stumbling or falling. In any field, whether it’s visual art, music, film or writing, it’s those who experiment and innovate, surpassing prevailing models of aesthetic production, who earn the highest praise,” she said in her tribute to what she called his “genius”.
Paul added: “The norm is for literary writers to remain safely within the enclaves of high literature, rarely attempting to venture into more popular genres such as fantasy, which is what Marlon has successfully done with Black Leopard, Red Wolf. Reading Marlon James is like riding a ‘bronc’, or a bucking bronco, a real one, not the mechanical bulls you see in American saloons. He will try his best to unseat you, but if you hang on, you will be richly rewarded.”
McGrath, a British-Jamaican make-up artist and creative design director of Procter and Gamble, has been credited as one of the fashion industry’s most respected and influential make-up artists, including for high fliers like Giorgio Armani.
Beauty maven Romae Gordon, co-managing director of Pulse modelling agency, said McGrath’s honour was “obviously a wonderful recognition of her work and should be an inspiration for make-up artists all over the world”.
“This ought to be good news for Jamaican make-up artists, because they can see a path to significant success once they have the talent and apply themselves to their craft.
“Importantly, too, parents can see that their young ones can choose the non-traditional path of becoming make-up artists, advance to professional status, and create highly successful careers in the process,” said Gordon, a former model.