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Assassination, politics and Bob Marley: Author Marlon James to bring insight on creative writing to ASU

Marlon James to give talk on his novel "A Brief History of Seven Killings" and the creative writing process on Thursday

Marlon James poses for photo

Marlon James poses for a promotional photo for his novel, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," which was published in 2014.

Did you know that Bob Marley was almost assassinated in 1976?

No? Did you know there was a book written about the attempt that fictionalizes elements of Jamaican and American history to explore topics such as political corruption and gang violence in the 20th century? 

If you would rather learn about these topics than listen to an analysis of "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the fifth time in your introductory English class, put down the classics and step into the contemporary at the "When Books Come out of Books" talk this Thursday.

Renowned Jamaican author Marlon James will be stopping by ASU's Tempe campus on Nov. 3 to debut a new literary talk called "When Books Come out of Books" from 7 - 8:30 p.m. in the Marston Exploration Theater. 

The event, which is free and open to both ASU students and the greater Phoenix community, will focus on James's most recent book, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," and the process of creative writing and novel research. James will talk for about 50 minutes, leaving 30 minutes for questions and book signings immediately following.

The event is hosted by the  Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing as part of the Distinguished Visiting Writer's series, which aims to bolster the literature community in the Phoenix metropolitan area by inviting illustrious authors to give talks, hold workshops and interact with the community.

James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970 and currently lives in Minneapolis, where he teaches English and creative writing at Macalester College. James has penned three award-winning novels, with his most recent book, "A Brief History of Seven Killings," winning several accolades including the esteemed Man Booker Prize last year. 

James became the first Jamaican author to receive the prize.

"A Brief History of Seven Killings," a 700-page behemoth, begins with the 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley and expands to examine the unstable political climates of Jamaica and America through the 1990s. Though heavily based in truth, the novel is a fictionalized account of Jamaica's history (the Bob Marley part is completely factual, though).

"Seven Killings" is also written almost entirely in dialogue and dialect and contains more than 75 characters.

Jacob Friedman, the event coordinator with the Virginia G. Piper Center, praised the book for its avante-garde approach to fiction.

"Marlon's writing is very experimental, and in a way, it makes writing more accessible," Friedman said. "You're like, 'I didn't know anyone could write like that. I didn't know I was allowed to write like that.'"

The novel deals with heavy subjects such as international crime, political corruption, gun violence, the immigration experience and many other topics still relevant to events in 2016 America. The book is also currently being developed into a TV series by HBO.

"Marlon's work restores the horror of violence and portrays what a society undergoing a national tragedy is really experiencing," Friedman said. "'Seven Killings' leaves you with something you carry with you as you move forward and experience the world."

Mark Athitakis, who previously taught journalism classes at ASU and gave a presentation at the Desert Nights, Rising Stars conference last year, says that James's work and other novels like it are vital if we are to understand our place in the world.

"We come to literature to get a breadth of experience — to understand perspectives and privileges we are unfamiliar with," Athitakis said. "James's work exemplifies this and offers a unique insight into what's going on the world of contemporary literature."

While the event is open to the entire Phoenix and ASU community, The Virginia G. Piper Center also partners with ASU's MFA programs to offer smaller workshops and events for the MFA students. Dustin Pearson, a third year MFA in poetry student, has seen James speak before and will be attending the event on Thursday.

"I would definitely recommend these events for all students," Pearson said. "James speaks smartly about diversity, and there's a lot of life lessons to be found in these works. Anyone, of any aspiring writing level, can gain some insight."

Pearson, who has been attending these events since his first year, said he has incorporated many of the things he's heard and learned at these events into his own writing and reiterated the idea that everyone, not just MFA students or academics, has something to gain from the subject matter covered by these events.

Can't make it to James's talk on Thursday? There are two more Distinguished Visiting Writers coming in the spring semester, and the Virginia G. Piper Center offers several other events throughout the year. Visit the  Center's website for more information about upcoming literary events and the event page to RSVP for James's Thursday event.

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