The Rialto Hall was full up last night with an amazing crowd for the launch of Marlon James' Black Leopard, Red Wolf. The conversation between him and Dimitri Nasrallah was full of juicy tidbits and I’m more than happy to share some of them with you here.
First up, and probably the most important thing we all took home from the night is this: Marlon’s favourite TV show in the last 50 years is Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And he isn’t going to let anyone shame him for it.
Genre writing is not ‘slumming it’. It’s what authors go to when faced with difficult times. For example, Tolkien and CS Lewis wrote fantasy when they ran out of superlatives for Word War II. Something that horrible could only be processed with a character like Sauron. More on that here.
Secondly, North American vampires don’t have anything on African ones; for starters they will bite you in broad daylight.
Marlon tells us that you need myths to create myths. The initial stories are essential and he had to search for his. After fastidiously researching African mythology for two years he discovered that a lot of texts on African mythology are racist, homophobic and simply problematic in just so many ways. “If a text is older than 20 years, it’s probably horse shit.” By pushing his research he discovered that many African peoples and tribes made space for queerness, and gender fluidity for a very long time. That it was only when missionaries showed up that homophobia became normalized in the culture. For a queer author this knowledge was empowering, but it took a lot of digging.
Luckily he has some experience with digging, which brings us to my next tidbit.
Marlon’s mother was a detective! And a damn good one.
Marlon credits his inquisitiveness to his mother. And he says that novel writing is essentially detective work. He encourages his students at Macalester College to take a journalism course and underscored that an author needs to be explicit and fair when creating characters. He also spoke about writing characters different from oneself and the absolute necessity of reading. He let us know that when he was first writing women he kept getting it wrong, and then it hit him that he wasn’t reading any women authors. Once he started reading more women he was finally able to start writing women in a more complete way. Basically, to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader!
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