LONDON - Marlon James became the first Jamaican to win the Man Booker fiction prize on Tuesday for "A Brief History of Seven Killings", inspired by an attempt to kill reggae star Bob Marley, and said he hoped more Caribbean writers will follow.
The 686-page novel, which uses Jamaican patois, Harlem slang and liberal doses of scatological language, tells the story of a gang of cocaine-fueled ghetto kids armed with automatic weapons who tried but failed to kill Marley in the Jamaican capital Kingston in 1976 before he gave a peace concert.
"Jamaica has a really really rich literary tradition, it is kind of surreal being the first and I hope I'm not the last and I don't think I will be," James, 44, said after winning the award.
"There is a real universe of sort of spunky creativity that's happening," he added. "I hope it brings more attention to what's coming out of Jamaica and the Caribbean."
James, who said he had been inspired to become a writer by his father, said he had decided to give up writing after one of his books was rejected 70 times, but eventually it was published and he was able to put the voices he heard in Jamaica into his work.
"The reggae singers ... were the first to recognize that the voice coming out of our mouths was a legitimate voice of fiction ...that the son of the market woman can speak poetry," he said.
Author and academic Michael Wood, chair of the five judges who selected James's book from a shortlist of six titles, said the sprawling work had impressed the entire panel.
"The excitement of the book kept coming, I think, and we just felt it didn't flag, and on re-reading it just got better," he told reporters.
The book is the third novel by James, who now lives in Minneapolis and teaches writing.