October 15, 2017

Introduction of Marlon James at Cornell University by Carole Boyce Davies

A Brief History of Seven Killings

  Carole Boyce Davies and Marlon James, Ithaca, NY, 12 Oct 2017. 

Photo by Stephanie Vaughn

The Creative Writing Program of the Department of English, Cornell University
Fall 2017 Barbara & David Zalaznick Reading Series

Marlon James, Novelist

Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;
Until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;
Until the color of a man's skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;
Until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;
Until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.
Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;
Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;

The chorus as we know is:  “There will be war,” a promise of unending violence. And we already know that these wars are both across national boundaries; but often internal as well. And in the case of the Americas, the violence of indigenous genocide, the African maafa and the succeeding three centuries of enslavement and continuing colonialism, American imperialism and its attending ills, have cumulatively produced a certain unending violence, often re-enacted within groups. 

These words from Haile Selassie’s  1963 speech to the United Nations are just as relevant now as they were over fifty years ago. I begin with them deliberately.  They inspired  and were charged by Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley in one of his classics. It is significant to mention these two conjunctions, as they are precisely what animates Marlon James’s classic text.  Bob Marley functions as a veiled fictional presence in Marlon James’s prize winning,  A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014). Bob Marley was the voice of  resistance, throughout the US and Caribbean Black Power period, (1970’s-90’s) engaging political and knowledge fields like Pan Africanism,  Rastafari, the African Diaspora, Human Rights but also Love, Sexuality and liberation, for a generation, with rhythms and lyrics that became movement anthems that still endure.  In many ways the singer, as he is termed in this novel,  becomes the creative metaphor  or center of the text, if one exists;  but also the one who in many ways generates the text and around whom but also to whom, some of the killing is directed. Marlon lets us see the singer through the eyes of several male characters but also through the voice of Nina Burgess the most fully developed woman in the text, who lives to migrate to the U.S. 

But around the singer as around Nina Burgess, who functions as a witness,  there is an extreme masculinized violence  in language, as in politics and definitely in practice, that populates this not at all brief history.  Some call it a polyphony others a cacophony  or even a whirlwind of voices, another,  a collage of voice through which these stories are told in a cast of characters already made it seems for screen and optioned by HBO.   Here the dead speak right from the start. Here assassins execute; CIA agents operate; killers kill; drug dealers deal in what all reviewers agree is an epic novel, taking Caribbean literature fully into new possibilities.  For one of his fellow Jamaican writers, Geoffrey Philp author of Garvey’s Ghost  the following assessment:  “Compared to earlier writers, Marlon does not prettify or romanticize the violence.  He pushes the boundaries of what is possible in Caribbean writing and goes to places in his writing that many of us have not dared to go.”  

For me, a Caribbean-American feminist critic,  Marlon James had revealed his ability to develop a space for women and resistance in The Book of Night Women.  (2009)  set in plantation Jamaica in which before “Django”  we have an enslaved woman, killing a rapacious slave master and burning down a plantation great house (think of a Linda Brent who does not hide in the attic for seven years) and walking away from the act.  Still my favorite is his John Crow’s Devil  (2005 )  an experimental and surprisingly beautiful encounter  with his version Caribbean magic realism,  sexuality, insanity, possession, the supernatural with corrupt evangelical ministers as the lead characters,  all carried out in a Caribbean country side,  which will never make it into the tourist brochures. This book we learn was rejected over 70 times. For the would-be writers in the audience:  Courage!

Marlon James who describes himself as a post-post-colonial, in the sense of no longer having to deal with the UK but with the USA was born in Jamaica in 1970.  He writes about his coming into himself as a writer and in claiming his sexual identity in “From Jamaica to Minesota to Myself” New York Times, March 10, 2015. And finding himself in Minnesota,  even as he gains international fame, he remains grounded,  as  he wrote, after the acquittal of the police killer of Philando Castille, the realities of  the psychic and physical violence of continuing racism and the possibilities of accidental  or deliberate police execution  as a reality for black people in America.  It is a classic critique which I recommend to all titled:  “Smaller, And Smaller, and Smaller” (June 17, 2017) which my Writing Black Experience read today and had amazing responses to:

I have a big global voice, but a small local one, because I don’t want to be a target, and resent that in 2017, that’s still the only choice I get to have. … I go out of my way to avoid police, because I don’t know how to physically act around them. Do I hold my hands in the air and get shot, Do I kneel and get shot? Do I reach for my ID and get shot?
Do I say I’m an English teacher and get shot? Do I tell them everything I am about to do, and get shot? Do I assume than seven of them will still feel threatened by one of me, and get shot? Do I simply stand and be big black guy and get shot? Do I fold my arms and squeeze myself into smaller and get shot? Do I be a smartass and get shot? Do I leave my iPhone on a clip of me on Seth Meyers, so I can play it and say, see, that’s me. I’m one of the approved black guys. And still get shot?
… You will never know how it feels to realize that it doesn’t matter how many magazines articles I get, or which state names a day after me. Tomorrow when I get on my bike, I am big black guy, who might be shot before the day ends, because my very size will make a cop feel threatened. Or if I’m a woman, my very mouth. And a jury of white people, and people of colour sold on white supremacy will acquit him. And even me hoping for hipster points on my fixed wheel bike, is countered by them thinking I probably stole the bike.

Marlon James won the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, and has also won many other prizes for his other works.  He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and teaches English and creative writing at Macalester College.

Thomas Glave in  his introduction to  Our Caribbean.  A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles, (2008)  says:  “What would it be like to attend – to truly hear,  for once – the many conversations that we have had with each other and still need so very much to hear? What would it be like to listen to and now, by way of a gathering of voices like this once, actually observe these conversations between ourselves?”   

I invite you to listen to Marlon James.

July 28, 2017

The Marcus Garvey Rootz Extravaganza Moves Into High Gear

Rootz Extravaganza

The Lauderdale Lakes City Council officially endorsed the 2017 Marcus Garvey Rootz Extravaganza on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at its City Commission meeting.

Accordingly, Thursday, August 17, 2017 will once again be Marcus Garvey Appreciation Day in the City of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida.

Lauderdale Lakes Mayor Hazelle Rogers signed and sealed the proclamation recognizing the annual Marcus Garvey Rootz Extravaganza  and she presented the official city document recognizing the event to the President of Rootz Foundation Inc. Priest Douglas Smith and Vice President Ras I. Jabulani Tafari at the City Commission chamber.

The Garvey Extravaganza is presented by the Rootz Foundation Inc. in association with the City of Lauderdale Lakes.

The 2007 Marcus Garvey Rootz Extravaganza celebrating the 130th anniversary of Marcus Garvey’s birth, takes place at the Lauderdale Lakes Educational & Cultural Center, 3850 West Oakland Park, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida 33319. The birthday celebration starts at 7.00 p.m. and runs until 10.00 p.m. There is no charge for admission.

The specially invited Guest Speaker for the event will be Garvey scholar and University of the West Indies professor, Dr. Rupert Lewis. The evening's entertainment will be highlighted by Kristine Alicia, Eugene Gray and Revalation.


June 28, 2017

1 Minute Book Review: Come Let Us Sing Anyway

Leone Ross

Name of the book: Come Let Us Sing Anyway

Author: Leone Ross

Publisher: Peepal Tree Press

What’s the book about?

In Leone Ross’s luminous collection of short stories – ranging from richly extended stories to intense pieces of flash fiction, set between Jamaica and Britain –  anything can happen.

Ross’s setting may be familiar and her characters recognisable, but these stories take a magical/fantastical turn that dramatically transforms the way we see. Other stories draw us straight into the world of the fantastical or the implausible with such meticulous and concrete detail that we accept these as reality: a wife returns from the dead and their marital bickering resumes, a headless girl barely lifts an eyebrow among her school companions, a security guard collects discarded hymens and uncovers a deeper empathy for women.

At the heart of the stories is Leone Ross’s refusal to accept any boundary between the erotic and the most inventive kind of pornography. There is a seriousness here too, in the author’s intentions: a vision of the fluidity of the person, the inequalities of the body politic – from the deaths of black people at the hands of the police, to the deep shifts that signal subtle changes in the nature of capitalism.

This is a richly varied, witty and entertaining collection whose frankness may sometimes tickle, sometimes shock; but always engages the intellect and the heart.

Why am I reading this book?

To be honest, I haven’t finished reading the book. I bought Come Let Us Sing Anyway after I read an excerpt on the Peepal Tree web site and I was hooked. But then, after reading just the first line from the first chapter (see below), I knew I was encountering a formidable intelligence—that Leone Ross was attempting something that I hadn’t seen before and I was enchanted.

Quote from the Book: “Mrs Neecy Brown’s husband is falling in love. She can tell, because the love is stuck to the walls of the house, making the wallpaper sticky, and it has seeped into the calendar in her kitchen, so bad she can’t see what date it is, and the love keeps ruing the food—whatever she does or however hard she concentrates, everything turns to mush.”

Update: June 3, 2017. I've finished reading Come Let Us Sing and it has lived up to my expectations. I also learned a few things too.

About the Author

Come Let Us Sing Anyway

Leone Ross is a novelist, short story writer, editor, journalist and academic of Jamaican and Scottish ancestry. She was born in England and grew up in Jamaica. Her first novel, All The Blood Is Red was long listed for the Orange Prize, her second novel, Orange Laughter was chosen as a BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour Watershed Fiction favourite. In 2015, Leone was one of three judges for the Manchester Prize for Fiction.

May 17, 2017

Launch of Malachi Smith's "Wiseman"

Dub Poet

On May 18, 2017, Malachi Smith will celebrate the release of the seventh CD, Wiseman, at Jepa’s Place, 7153 W. Oakland Park Boulevard, Lauderhill, Florida.

The new CD is an extension of many of the concerns that have been part of Malachi's oeuvre for the past thirty years. From the nostalgic “Concrete Rose” to the topical “Brexit,” Malachi displays his talent for lyrical phrasings set to the riddims of reggae music.

Malachi also displays his characteristic sense of humor even when he is describing political turmoil in the United Kingdom in "Breakaway":

There is great weeping on the Thames
From Glasgow to the plains
The ghosts of Cromwell and Churchill in a fight
Since Great Expectations, what a Dickens' night

And, of course, there is also romance in "Sticky Situation":

Late in the evening enjoying the breeze
At a little bar by the side of the road
Threw down the stress and heavy load
Holt and Gregory coming through the speakers

A superbly engineered CD and with a team of veteran musicians, Wiseman reveals a dub poet at the height of his craft.


March 21, 2017

Sir Derek Alton Walcott, (23 January 1930 – 17 March 2017)

And I answer, Anna,
twenty years after,
a man lives half of life,
the second half is memory,

the first half, hesitation
for what should have happened
but could not, or

what happened with others
when it should not

~from Another Life


February 27, 2017

"El Numero Uno" Opens at the Jamaica School of Drama

El Numero Uno
Pamela Mordecai's play, El Numero Uno, opens at the School of Drama in Kingston, Jamaica, on 10 March, 2017. 

About Pamela Mordecai
Pamela Mordecai was born in Jamaica. She has published five collections of poetry, with a sixth, de book of Mary, to appear in fall 2015. Pink Icing, an anthology of short fiction, appeared in 2006, while Red Jacket is her first novel. She has published five children’s books and her poetry for children is widely anthologized – indeed, one of her children’s poems recently appeared in The Guardian (UK) in a list of “top ten poems to remember and recite”. She has also written many textbooks and edited or co-edited groundbreaking anthologies of Caribbean writing. Her poems have been shortlisted for the Canada Writes CBC Poetry Prize and the Bridport Prize (U.K.) and her short fiction for the James Tiptree Jr Literary Award. She is the recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary and Bronze Musgrave Medals, the Vic Reid Award for Children’s Writing, and the Burla Award. Pamela lives in Kitchener.

February 4, 2017

Black History Month: A Marcus Garvey Reading List

Marcus Garvey

During this year's Black History Month celebrations, I will be giving lectures and reading from my recently published YA novel, Garvey's Ghost.

Here are a few of the books about Marcus Garvey that I'd recommend for students, parents, teachers, community activists, librarians, or anyone interested in learning more about this great man. While this is by no means the definitive list, I hope it is a starting point for those who would like to learn more about this great man.


The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans by Marcus Garvey and Amy Jacques Garvey. Routledge.

Garvey and Garveyism by Amy Jacques Garvey. Octagon Books.

Race First: The Ideological and Organizational Struggles of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association by Tony Martin. Majority Press.

Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey by Colin Grant. Oxford University Press.

Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association by Marcus Garvey, Robert A. Hill and Barbara Blair. University of California Press.

Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion by Rupert Lewis. Africa World Press.

Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa by John Henrik Clarke. Black Classic Press.

A Rastafari view of Marcus Mosiah Garvey: Patriarch, prophet, philosopher by I. Jabulani Tafari. Frontline Distribution International.

The source for Garvey scholars:

The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers Volumes 1-10


This is first serious study of Marcus Garvey. I am noting it only for its historical significance.

Black Moses: The Story of Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association by E. David Cronon and John Hope Franklin. University of Wisconsin Press.


Fourth to Twelfth Grade

Marcus Garvey, Hero: A First Biography by Tony Martin. Majority Press.

Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey and Bob Blaisdell. Dover Publications.

Marcus Garvey (Black Americans of Achievement) by Mary Lawler, Nathan I. Huggins and Coretta Scott King. Chelsea House Publications.

A Man Called Garvey: The Life and Times of the Great Leader Marcus Garvey by Paloma Mohamed and Barrington Braithwaite. Majority Press.

Marcus Garvey by Suzanne Francis-Brown and Jean Jacques Vaysierres. Ian Randle Publishers.

Selected Utterances of Marcus Garvey and the Garveyites. Rootz Foundation, Inc.


Marcus Garvey: Black Nationalist by Peggy Caravantes. Morgan Reynolds Pub.
A few historical errors, including Garvey's name, which Caravantes lists as Malchus:



Marcus Teaches Us by Eleanor Wint. Trafford Press.



The American Experience - Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind 2002. PBS.
Flawed but useful: See Tony Martin's web page.


And for anyone seeking information about Garvey's trial: 

"Jailing a Rainbow: The Marcus Garvey Case" by Justin Hansford, Saint Louis University - School of Law

January 10, 2017

Download Garvey's Ghost @ Book Fusion

Geoffrey Philp

When Kathryn Bailey's teenaged daughter disappears from their home in Miami, the single Jamaican woman pursues every possible angle to find her. Kathryn's search leads her to a meeting with Jasmine's college professor, Jacob Virgo, a devout Garveyite and Rastafarian. Although their initial encounter is unpleasant, they must join forces to find Jasmine before it is too late. Through the teachings of Marcus Garvey, they learn to break down subtle barriers and find an unexpected bridge to new understandings and love.

January 9, 2017

Five Questions With Shara McCallum

Jamaican poet

1.   Why the title Madwoman and not Mad Woman?

The reason is that ‘Madwoman’ is a proper noun and is the name of the character that speaks, is sometimes addressed, or is at other times spoken of in third-person throughout the collection. While she reflects and refracts ideas of ‘mad women’ or ‘madwomen’ in literature, cultures, and myths across time and various places, she is a specific figure of my imagination with her own story. She experiences various forms of ‘madness’ (rage, grief, dislocation of the self) and, at her most extreme, veers toward being mad as rass as we would say in Jamaican English. I first wrote about this Madwoman in a couple of poems that appeared in my second book. I’d really not given her another thought until some years ago when she started speaking to me, and this time she was noticeably more unhinged. As I’ve said elsewhere I think, in some measure I wrote these poems to try to determine who she was and to try to get at the origins of her ‘madness.’

2.   Would it be fair to say that the various “madwomen” are really innocents who refuse to conform to a maladjusted society?

I think that would be too easy and let her (or the versions/avatars of the Madwoman throughout the book) off the hook. Who of us is every fully innocent? Even in childhood, I think we are all capable of acts of cruelty. Maybe rather than an ‘innocent’ I would say Madwoman is someone seeking to be a good person. But she also wants to cast off societal conventions, and being seen as good and being defiant of social norms are often in direct opposition, especially for women. I think the way Madwoman most wants to achieve goodness (rather than to be seen as good, as these are not the same things in my mind) is that she wants to be truthful and to never look away from what is difficult. She also wants to be generous and to try to see the good in others, even those who she feels have wronged her in some fashion. But these desires are set against the fact that below the surface in all of us lurks rage and sadness and fear, waiting to be potentially vented, and she knows this too. She also recognizes that even if one does not mean to hurt others and is therefore “innocent” in our aims, this does not always matter. How many times have each of us come up against the fact that if someone feels wounded by something we’ve said or done, then in their minds we are responsible for their injury regardless of what we intended? When we are in relationships with others, we are not in full possession of the definition of ourselves. To most of us, this is troubling to varying degrees at different times in our lives. Only narcissists seem able to completely dismiss others’ perceptions and truths and this is not a good thing. I think I may have veered away here from answering your original question but the link to some part of what you initially asked is this for me: in these poems Madwoman is struggling with her right to self-definition set against the way other individuals in her life and in society and culture writ large see her, or don’t in some instances see her at all.

3.   There seems to be a divide between the young “madwoman” and an older “madwoman.” Is there a real difference? And if so, what is the difference?

Yes, there are differences and a divide. The younger madwoman, in childhood, believes in magic and beauty and myth. The older madwoman, the adult version, wants to believe in these things, but often finds they break down in the face of what she has witnessed as truths of human nature and experience. The rupture in her is a kind of crisis of faith. There are several origins for this, but the ones she confronts most often in this collection are violence, death of loved ones, and other pivotal forms of loss.

4. Madwoman plays with identities, especially as they relate to memory and fiction. If this is true, does this playfulness arise from “problems distinguishing fact from fiction”?

In part, absolutely so, and this also speaks to the fallibility of memory. Thanks to advances in scientific understandings of the brain, we know now that memory is imagination as it is a kind of factual recall. The other reason for the ‘play of identity’ (and I like that phrase very much) has to do with what I spoke to earlier—the pull in the Madwoman between self-representation and the gaze of others and of the culture at large.

5. Catherine Clement in Opera, or the Undoing of Women claims, “Opera comes to me from the womb. They will tell you hysteria is a sickness…Do not believe it. Hysteria is a woman’s principal resource.” Do you agree with the sentiment and could a similar claim be made about your poetry?

In poems, I am often drawn to areas and moments in our lives where the self appears to come apart. In that regard, I could see ‘hysteria’ as a useful term for my poetry, though if applied with some caution. Obviously ‘hysteria’ is a loaded word and was, as Clement alludes, for a long time a medical diagnosis exclusively for women, used to dismiss and contain their bodies and minds. We still contend with the latent idea of women as ‘hysterical’ and thereby inferior to the ‘rational’ man, and this feeds into how we continue to view gender and treat women and men alike. In Madwoman, I am writing from the vantage point of a woman, or about a woman, who is often approaching the line between ‘madness’ as productive versus destructive. But there is a sizable variance between the kinds of ‘madness’ I address in this collection and actual mental illnesses. Clement’s statement is very provocative and I can see that she seeks to reclaim the term from its negative connotations and for metaphorical purposes in her usage. Still, my answer to your question is ‘yes’ with qualification: I would say ‘hysteria’ is a great source of power for the Madwoman, and these poems, when harnessed.

About Shara McCallum
Originally from Jamaica, Shara McCallum is the author of five books of poetry, published in the US and UK: Madwoman, The Face of Water: New and Selected Poems, This Strange Land, Song of Thieves, and The Water Between Us. Her poems have appeared in literary magazines, anthologies, and textbooks in the US, UK and other parts of Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Israel and have been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, Dutch, and Turkish. Her personal essays appear regularly in print and online. Recognition for her writing includes a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for Poetry, and other awards. She is Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry and the Margaret Hollinshead Ley Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bucknell University.