Marlon James is working on a novel, which will be the follow-up to his hugely successful (Man Booker-winning, HBO optioned) A Brief History of Seven Killings. At least, that’s what he’s supposed to be doing. Right now, the Twin Cities by way of Kingston author is having some trouble focusing on what’s still a primordial stage of writing. He laments that, like the rest of us, he is spending too much time sitting idly on the procrastination engine that is Facebook. Work, for now, has taken a backseat.
“I’m maybe 10 pages in yet,” he says.
James hasn’t figured out exactly what the new project is demanding of him. There’s a routine that hasn’t yet been established.
“I could be writing [right now]. I should be. The truth is that I love to not write. The problem generally is that my biggest research tool is the internet, and my biggest distraction is also the internet.”
James will be sharing his thoughts on writing — and not writing — tonight as he joins fellow literary rock star Dave Eggers for what’s being billed as “Dave Eggers and Marlon James in Conversation.” (It’s doubtful either author had a hand in naming the event.) What’s sure to be one of 2016’s most intellectually stimulating talks will take place at the Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul at 8 p.m.
For those in the know, the happening is a big deal, as the event is also a benefit for the Mid-Continental Oceanographic Institute, a very worthy after-school program in St. Paul that helps young people with writing and other necessary skills to ensure that our next generation will turn out better than millennials. The money raised from the event will help MOI become something of a charter for Eggers' similarly magnanimous 826 National.
For James, the experience of working with these organizations, and particularly teaching young students and instilling a love of reading, is its own reward.
“The mode for discovering worlds of wonder is still books," he says. "Yeah, there’s movies but a movie ends in 90 minutes. What are [kids] going to do for the rest of the summer? I think sometimes we have this death knell, this sort of pessimistic view of literature, which I actually think is kind of bullshit... Books have survived everything. They’ve survived war. They’ve survived burnings. They’ve survived repressive regimes. They’ve survived plagues."
This is a topic that James has surely wrestled with before, as he’s not only a writer but also a professor at Macalester College, and has recently been doing writing workshops with fifth graders.
“Just being around students who are excited about learning something new is fantastic… What I find interesting about them is that I can watch their minds get blown; that they didn’t know they could do this. Everything is still a moment, an opportunity for discovery. An un-cynical discovery.”
The picture he paints is beautiful and filled with hope. It’s so much more inspiring than the image of kids blankly staring at screens and receding into the hamster wheel of adult modernity.
The people at MOI deserve the support this event can provide. Seats are $25, or $10 for standing room. Everyone wins if you buy a ticket. And if for some reason you can’t make it to the event, then we hope you like your future bleak.