Marlon James in his Book Prize novel, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”

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A report by Aygen for The Press Stories.

If there’s one person you want to talk to in the middle of a pandemic, it’s probably a speculative fiction writer – someone whose imagination is as wild and rude as wild and rude. Marlon James’ fourth novel, “Black leopard, red wolf“, The Times’ inaugural Ray Bradbury Prize winner for science fiction, is his first foray into fantasy, but retains the familiar epic reach and kaleidoscopic quality of his award-winning Booker Prize novel,” A Brief History of Seven Killings “- a sensitivity that broadens the mind and that tilts the head that requires (and rewards) the concentration and dedication of a reader.

Reported by a man called Tracker, whose supernaturally sharp nose earned him to work as a sort of bounty hunter, “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is also a distinctly Jamesian entry into the fantasy canon. The book, the first in the planned Dark Star trilogy, is rooted in African mythology and driven by queer desire; it expands the genre it enters, asking us to continue expanding our reality and exploring our relationship to the very idea of ​​truth. Here is our modified conversation on the removal of gender walls, dystopia as realism during the pandemic and the prospect of world domination of pop culture.

So we will start with what is usually not a very busy question: how are you?

All right, I guess. I read about vigilantes in Maine who blocked the roads and forced people they think were visitors to stay at home. I say to myself, “Wow! We’re at” Walking Dead “and we don’t even have the zombies yet.”

You once said in an interview, about wanting to write a speculative fiction: “We are coming to the end of what realism can express.” But it’s hard not to feel that life has become totally surreal.

This is absolutely the case, and it is surprising how practical it is. The thing about dystopian fiction is that we focus on the horrors of it, but we never focus on the inevitability. I was watching “Handmaid’s Tale” last night, and every time I look at it, I go: “But it could actually happen.” I come out of [the] evangelical church. I know the people who work to get there!

I don’t think we can put this wall between us and dystopian fiction anymore. I don’t think we can read it as we read historical fiction, where we are separated from it by reality.

Now is the perfect time to read the original speculative novel, Mary Shelley “The last man. “Quite funny, it was a scourge – I was like,” Shit, girl. The original dystopian novel was right! “And if there’s ever been a moment to read” Moby Dick “, it’s now. I I’m not talking about the plague, I’m talking about how our government is responding to it. We’re going in this ridiculous direction. You want to understand the world, you have to put on your Moby Dick.

“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” brings African mythology into Western Western popular consciousness. You have done a lot of research for this book. What things seemed exciting and fresh to you?

One of the things that seemed very exciting to me was the older attitudes towards queerness and otherness. I did not go looking for it and I was quite shocked and happy to find it. The idea of ​​different genres and so on – I’m so glad people accept these other identities, especially trans identities, but at the same time, all of you late. When you read these mythologies, some of these people have 14 genres!

The book also does a lot of work to make the reader wonder if he can trust the story he is reading. Why was it interesting for you?

The fact is that the old audiences were much more demanding, and they brought a lot more skepticism and intelligence and wit to a story than we did. We almost only bring our eyes. In many African stories, for example, it is a trickster who tells a story. So they already make it clear: I am an unreliable narrator. The act of defining the truth becomes something the reader has to discover.

Who are the writers who informed your work? Who is in your speculative fiction canon?

I read everyone. But in terms of writers who made me think I want to do that – even if it took years – a lot of Nalo Hopkinson. The idea that stories in my backyard could be a source of fantasy blew me away. Many fantasies for me would not be called fantasies. They would probably be called more realistic magics, but to me they are fantasies. For me, Toni Morrison “Song of SolomonIs a magical realistic novel.

It is sometimes very difficult for some writers, color and queer writers and so on, to write down the story that is in your head. The writers who will go to your permanent shelf tend to be the writers who redefine for you what is possible.

There is also something that may not have seemed like a blessing to me when I was growing up, but I realize it now: I don’t have any gender snobbery, because I couldn’t afford it. If you ask me, what kind of book have I read? Whatever the next book is. God bless if I have a Virginia Woolf, but the next novel will be Jackie Collins, whom I love. The only requirement I had for a book was that it was the following.

Speaking of reading – you get an award named after Ray Bradbury. Did you read it while growing up? What did his work mean to you?

There is so much of his work that has been turned into film and television, so it has always been part of my pop culture universe. Ray Bradbury means to me a world of absolute wonder and the idea that speculative history can still tell us as much about the human condition as any other type of history.

Michael B. Jordan is working on the adaptation of the Dark Star trilogy which begins with this novel. Will Marlon James ever be as big a piece of pop culture as Bradbury?

As a pop culture kid, I think to myself: Bring it on. I still have my “Star Wars” figures. “But also, a part of me still doesn’t believe it, always finds it shocking that, in terms of narration, our time has come.” Black Leopard, Red Wolf “is not just an African story or a black story. C “is a strange story. And the idea that the moment of this story has come is surprising. I still have to pinch myself to believe it.

If that means that we are reopening or expanding the idea of ​​what constitutes a story, then I totally agree. My favorite thing to watch now is the Korean zombie movies – “The Kingdom” and “The Last Train to Busan”. Just those stories that are familiar and foreign at the same time is what you would expect from a great story. Each great story is ultimately two things: totally familiar and absolutely foreign.

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