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Jonathan Escoffery: A Rising Star in Contemporary Literature

From Shortlisted to Storyteller of Our Time

In the realm of contemporary literature, a name that has recently emerged as a beacon of brilliance is Jonathan Escoffery. This 43-year-old author, who hails from Texas and currently resides in Oakland, California, has captivated readers and critics alike with his debut collection of short stories, If I Survive You.

The Booker Prize Spotlight

Escoffery’s arrival onto the literary scene was marked by a significant milestone: the shortlisting of If I Survive You for the prestigious Booker Prize in 2021. This recognition thrust Escoffery into the spotlight, propelling his book to international acclaim and introducing his unique storytelling voice to a global audience.

Beyond the honor of the nomination, the Booker Prize shortlisting had a profound impact on Escoffery’s career. It served as a validation of his artistry and opened doors to a wider readership, extending his reach beyond the United States to countries like India and Australia.

The Booker Prize also provided a platform for Escoffery to connect with other literary luminaries, including Marlon James, whose Booker Prize win in 2015 for A Brief History of Seven Killings had a profound influence on Escoffery. James’s novel, which delved into Jamaica’s turbulent history and struggles, resonated deeply with Escoffery, inspiring him to explore his own Jamaican heritage through his writing.

The Booker Prize experience was not without its moments of anticipation and suspense. Escoffery recalls the uncertainty surrounding the announcement of the winner, creating an electrifying atmosphere of anticipation. The eventual outcome, while not in his favor, did not diminish the significance of the recognition he had received.

Exploring Jamaican Identity and US Influence

At the heart of Escoffery’s writing lies a deep exploration of Jamaican identity and its complex relationship with the United States. Growing up in Miami, a city with a significant Jamaican diaspora, Escoffery witnessed firsthand the struggles and aspirations of his community.

In If I Survive You, Escoffery challenges the idyllic perception of Jamaica as a mere tourist destination. Through the eyes of his characters, he delves into the lives, dreams, and concerns of ordinary Jamaicans, revealing the intricate tapestry of their experiences.

One of the standout stories in the collection is “Trelawny,” which offers a poignant perspective on Jamaica’s history, particularly the role of the United States in perpetuating violence and political tensions. Through the eyes of its protagonist, Escoffery exposes the deep-rooted scars left by US intervention, highlighting the impact it has had on the lives of ordinary Jamaicans.

Escoffery’s exploration of Jamaican identity extends beyond the confines of the island nation. In his stories, he examines the experiences of Jamaican immigrants in the United States, capturing their struggles to navigate a new culture while holding onto their heritage.

Initially conceived as a novel, If I Survive You eventually evolved into a collection of short stories. This decision allowed Escoffery to delve into multiple perspectives, giving voice to a diverse cast of characters, including Trelawny’s father and brother.

Overcoming Writing Challenges with Innovative Techniques

Escoffery’s journey as a writer has not been without its challenges. One of the most daunting tasks he faced was writing about his parents’ generation. While he found it relatively easy to draw upon stories shared by his parents, he struggled to imagine his mother’s hypothetical return to Jamaica after decades of living in the United States.

To overcome this challenge, Escoffery turned to the second-person perspective, a narrative technique that allowed him to address his mother directly, revealing secrets and bad behavior with honesty and vulnerability.

Escoffery’s approach to plotting and planning is also noteworthy. He eschews traditional outlining methods, preferring to let the characters and their experiences guide the development of the plot. This organic approach allows for a sense of spontaneity and authenticity in his storytelling.

However, for the longest story in the collection, Escoffery found it necessary to create a detailed scene-by-scene outline in an Excel spreadsheet. This meticulous approach helped him maintain control over the complex narrative and ensure its coherence.

Literary Inspirations and Creative Evolution

Escoffery’s passion for writing began at a young age, with aspirations of becoming a novelist. It was during his college years that he discovered two literary works that would profoundly shape his writing journey: Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.

Larsen’s novel, with its exploration of racial and gender identity, resonated deeply with Escoffery. Cisneros’s linked story collection, on the other hand, inspired him to create a Jamaican-American story set in Miami, a city he knew intimately.

Escoffery’s reading habits continue to evolve, with his current favorites including John Vercher’s Devil Is Fine, Diana Evans’s A House for Alice, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Chain-Gang All-Stars.

Interestingly, Escoffery has adapted to writing in various settings, including planes and cars. He utilizes technology to capture ideas and inspiration whenever they strike, ensuring that his creative flow is uninterrupted.

Upcoming Projects and the Promise of a New Novel

Escoffery is currently working on a new novel, a departure from the fragmented structure of If I Survive You. Set in Miami Beach, the upcoming novel will feature a traditional chapter structure, promising a distinct narrative experience for readers.

Escoffery’s eagerness to write a straightforward novel reflects his desire to explore a different storytelling approach, one with a clear narrative progression and a more conventional structure.

Conclusion: A Rising Star Illuminating the Literary Landscape

Jonathan Escoffery’s journey as an author is a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and authenticity. From his early aspirations to his Booker Prize recognition, Escoffery has demonstrated a remarkable ability to capture the nuances of the human experience, particularly the complexities of Jamaican identity and the US influence.

His unique storytelling techniques, inspired by literary giants and his own life experiences, have earned him critical acclaim and a devoted readership. With his upcoming novel on the horizon, Escoffery promises to continue illuminating the literary landscape with his poignant and thought-provoking stories.

As Escoffery’s star continues to rise, readers can eagerly anticipate his future works, knowing that they will be treated to a literary experience that is both profound and unforgettable.