Fiction novelist Paul Beatty wins first Booker Prize for US
Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a stinging satire of race and class in the United States that has drawn comparisons to Richard Pryor and Mark Twain, won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday, the first time an American has taken the prestigious fiction award.
Judges said Beatty’s provocative book was a satire to rank with the classics, and as timely as the evening news.
Historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired the judging panel, said the book “plunges into the heart of contemporary American society, and with absolutely savage wit the kind I haven’t seen since (Jonathan) Swift or (Mark) Twain.”
The Sellout is set in a rundown Los Angeles suburb called Dickens, where the residents include the last survivor of The Little Rascals and the book’s narrator, Bonbon, an African-American man on trial at the US Supreme Court for attempting to reinstate slavery and racial segregation.
The book has been likened to the comedy of Pryor and Chris Rock, and Beatty goes where many authors fear to tread. Racial stereotypes, offensive speech and police killings of black men are all subject to his scathing eye.
Beatty acknowledged that The Sellout was a hard book both to read and to write and would push readers out of their comfort zone.
“I knew people could misread the book really easily,” he told reporters.
“I think people get caught up in certain words and their brains lock, certain ideas and their brains lock.”
Beatty was awarded the 50,000 pound ($61,000) prize by Prince Charles’ wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a black-tie ceremony at London’s medieval Guildhall.
“I’m just trying to create space for myself hopefully that creates space for others,” added the visibly emotional author as he accepted the prize.
“I don’t want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life,” said 54-year-old Beatty, who has written three previous novels. “But writing’s given me a life.
Foreman said The Sellout, which mixes pop culture, philosophy and politics with humor and anger, sets out to “eviscerate every social taboo”.
“This is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon,” she said. “That is why the book works because while you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled.”
The five judges met for a marathon four hours on Tuesday to choose the winner from among six finalists, whittled down from 155 submissions.
Paul Beatty and his prizewinner TheSellout.