James was born in Kingston, Jamaica, to parents who were both in the Jamaican police: his mother (who gave him his first prose book, a collection of stories by O. Henry) became a detective and his father (from whom James took a love of Shakespeare and Coleridge) a lawyer. James is a 1991 graduate of the University of the West Indies, where he read Language and Literature. He received a master's degree in creative writing from Wilkes University (2006).
James has taught English and creative writing at Macalester College since 2007. His first novel, John Crow's Devil — which was rejected 70 times before being accepted for publication — tells the story of a biblical struggle in a remote Jamaican village in 1957. His second novel, The Book of Night Women, is about a slave woman's revolt in a Jamaican plantation in the early 19th century. His most recent novel, 2014's A Brief History of Seven Killings, explores several decades of Jamaican history and political instability through the perspectives of many narrators. It won the fiction category of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, having been the first book by a Jamaican author ever to be shortlisted. He is the second Caribbean winner of the prize, following Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul who won in 1971.
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