New York Magazine

Realism Is Overrated

Authors Marlon James and Victor LaValle on the changing face of fiction and the liberating power of fantasy.
Victor LaValle, left, and Marlon James.

BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF AND A PEOPLE’S FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES are in bookstores now.

THE OTHER DAY, Victor LaValle, a Queens-born author who employs the fairy-tale format to lure readers into serious treatments of race and parenting, ordered dim sum with Marlon James, a Jamaican author of sweeping social epics that delight in challenging all the conventions of narrative. Both have new books out: LaValle has co-edited the speculative anthology A People’s Future of the United States, in which 25 science-fiction and fantasy writers contemplate the future—and dark present—of the country, and James has published Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the highly anticipated follow-up to his Man Booker Prize winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings. The two writers, who first met ten years ago, shared their thoughts on modern literature’s fear of sex, what made them want to become writers in the first place, and why they left literary realism behind.

MARLON JAMES: So I read your review [of Black Leopard, Red Wolf in Bookforum].

VICTOR LAVALLE: What’d you think?

MJ: I gotta say, that’s maybe the first time anybody’s ever mentioned that I write about sex. I actually kinda screamed. I don’t mind people writing about the violence, but it tends to be all they write about.

VL: For a black writer writing about gangsters, violence is almost the go-to,

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from New York Magazine

New York Magazine4 min read
The File: Ariana Grande
In less than six years, she has become one of the most successful pop artists of all time. Who is she?
New York Magazine19 min read
Wonder Boy
Pete Buttigieg is a gay Harvard alum, an Oxford grad, and fluent in Gramsci, Joyce, and Norwegian. And he’s the Democrats’ folksiest heartland hope. Really!
New York Magazine23 min read
The Mckinsey Way To Save An Island
Since 2016, Puerto Rico has been buffeted by a natural disaster and several overlapping, man-made catastrophes. Its government is bankrupt and owes $74 billion to bondholders: a staggering sum that amounts to 99 percent of the island’s gross national