TABLE TALK: Farley reflects on his roots and upcoming fantasy novel.
"I love being back in Jamaica," says Christopher John Farley over drinks at St. Andrew's Red Bones Blues Cafe on a balmy Friday evening. "It's good to be back. I like to make it a regular thing, and it feels great." Though the New York-based Jamerican author/journalist has made numerous trips back home over the years along with wife, Sharon, and their two adorable kids, Farley says he feels a special connection to this particular visit.
He's here to participate in the Kingston Book Festival, and given the import of such a cultural event, it was an invitation simply too good to pass up. "I am excited to be here because I always think it's great when Jamaicans come together in support of the arts," he observes. "Jamaica has excelled in so many fields, from the Olympics to music to science. And I think there are a lot of great indigenous writers from Jamaica and the Caribbean. And with this kind of cultural, structural support, we can see even more success globally."
Born in Kingston some 46 years ago, Farley grew up in New York and later attended Harvard University (where he edited the popular Harvard Lampoon) before going on to write for the likes of Time magazine (since 1992). Still, his mind is never far from his very early Jamaican roots. "My earliest memories are visiting my grandparents back when I was nine years old, and going out to Mocho in the country," he confesses. "And I just loved my grandparents because they taught me a whole lot about life."
Over the years, Farley has not only cultivated a distinctively cerebral appearance (complete with specs and a low cut), he has also published acclaimed books such as 1996's satirical novel My Favorite War; the fact-based novel Kingston by Starlight, as well as the biographies Aaliyah: More Than a Woman, Introducing Halle Berry and Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley. He also co-authored 2004's Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey.
As for his day job, he currently serves as an editor of the Wall Street Journal. "Working with the Journal is great because you get to work with some of the best writers in the world -- people like Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, Colin Channer, and Kwame Dawes, who have all written things for me online and offline," Farley says. "It puts you in a position to be able to work with some of the greatest writers from the Caribbean diaspora and publish their work."
Unsurprisingly, Farley has a new book on the horizon. Due out in February 2014 from Akashic Books, this one finds him exploring folkloric territory and invites readers to approach it with an open mind. "It's called Game World. As a kid I always loved books like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia but most of those books drew on European sources," he explains.
"So I was thinking it would be great to write a sort of fantasy novel for kids that draws on the myths and legends of the Caribbean -- things like duppies and rolling calfs and all the kinds of creatures that are in our mythology that we grew up with and that our grandparents told us stories about. So this is a book about that. Look out for it. It's gonna be terrific."
Farley's four recommended reads:
1. Kingston Noir, ed. by Colin Channer ("I had a short story in it that Colin edited. He's a brilliant editor but a tough editor, and he made the story much, much better. So he's a guy that I love working with.)
2. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
3. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
4. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi ("It gives a great example of someone from a non-European country writing a great memoir in a memorable form.")