Au­thor’s mile­stone

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.

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