By Isabella Biedenharn
Updated October 13, 2015 at 09:12 PM EDT

After much anticipation, the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2015 was finally announced Tuesday. Jamaican-born author Marlon James takes home the prestigious award, which was just opened up to all writers working in English last year, for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings.

James is the first Jamaican to win the prize, and Seven Killings is his third novel. It begins with an attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976, and traces Jamaican history and politics across three decades.

“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up,” James said in his acceptance speech. He said that 10 years ago, he’d given up on publishing. “I’m a difficult writer to like,” he said. A novel he’d written “was actually rejected around 70 times. I said, ‘Clearly, I’m not meant to write books.'” Fortunately, he overcame those stumbling blocks, and was able to make history today.

James pulled ahead of the rest of the shortlist, which included supposed frontrunner A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma, The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota, and Satin Island by Tom McCarthy.

Judges for this year’s prize included Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, and Frances Osbourne. Last year, Richard Flanagan won for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Past winners include Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Hilary Mantel, and Kazuo Ishiguro, V.S. Naipaul.