Marlon James winning the Man Booker Prize 2015

(Originally posted on Facebook, where I tend to post these kinds of pieces. )
Marlon James’ Man Booker win is staggeringly amazing on so many counts, not least because he’s only the SECOND black writer to win it in nearly 50 years, and the Prize has only ever had one black judge (this year), and 2 Asian judges. (The media won’t mention this.) It’s so blatant it has always felt like a statement.

I can really appreciate how his win signals renewed hope for many writers of colour.

The Prize is a career-maker, for sure, but will it also be a game-changer this time? When Ben Okri won it 25 years ago, it did not improve the fortunes of black African novelists. It took the The Caine Prize for African Writing to do this with its profile-raising winners, shortlists, anthologies and annual workshops in Africa, attended by many aspiring writers including Ngozi Adichie. Trend-watchers will observe that the industry has already slowed down in publishing African fiction (as we predicted…) and will probably turn its attention instead to Caribbean fiction, which has been shamefully overlooked for decades. ‘Where is the next Marlon James?’ it will ask. The fact that the decision-makers in the industry are from a demographic that is 99% not from an African-origin background is a huge factor.

Some prizes aim to raise the profile of whole continents, countries and demographics, such as the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature; The Complete Works II-Promoting diversity and quality in British Poetry, Paul Burston‘s Polari First Book Prize for LGBT writers, Kwame Dawes’ African Poetry Book Fund, and my own, Brunel University African Poetry Prize – As well as publishing initiatives such as Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd. And let us not overlook Peepal Tree Press, which has spearheaded publishing great Caribbean literature for the past 25 years.

I’ve watched publishing trends for thirty years and one person winning a major prize does not always change the game. It has to be backed up by work on the ground and publishers with a serious commitment to representing all kinds of writers – forever, not just as the latest trend.

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