Paul Beatty becomes first US winner of Man Booker Prize for ‘The Sellout’
Paul Beatty has become the first American writer to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sellout, a caustic satire on US racial politics.
While announcing his name, the judges said the novel “put him up there with Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift”.
The 54-year-old New York resident, born in Los Angeles, is the first American author to win the prize in its 48-year history. US authors became eligible in 2014. The 2016 shortlist included two British, two US, one Canadian and one British-Canadian writer.
According to the website of The Man Booker Prize, The Sellout is the story of ‘a remarkable journey that challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement and the holy grail of racial equality – the black Chinese restaurant’.
Amanda Foreman, 2016 Chair of judges, commented: ‘The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.’
The book is narrated by African-American ‘Bonbon’, a resident of the run-down town of Dickens in Los Angeles county, ‘which has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment’. Bonbon is being tried in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstitute slavery and segregation in the local high school as means of bringing about civic order. What follows is a retrospective of this whirlwind scheme, populated by cartoonish characters who serve to parody racial stereotypes. The framework of institutional racism and the unjust shooting of Bonbon’s father at the hands of police are particularly topical.
Paul Beatty is the author of three novels – Slumberland, Tuff and The White Boy Shuffle – and two books of poetry: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor.
This is the second consecutive Man Booker Prize success for independent publisher Oneworld, following Marlon James’ win with A Brief History of Seven Killings in 2015.
Amanda Foreman was joined on the 2016 panel of judges by Jon Day, Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Harsent, and Olivia Williams. The judges considered 155 books for this year’s prize, including a total of 11 call-ins.
In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Beatty also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.
Paul Beatty will take part in will take part in his first public event as winner at a New Statesman-partnered event at Foyles on Friday 28 October 2016.
Paul Beatty’s win was announced by Amanda Foreman at a black-tie dinner at London’s Guildhall, where he was presented with a trophy from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque from Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group.
Beatty was overcome by emotion as he accepted the award. He told the audience: “I don’t want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life … but writing has given me a life.”
At a short press conference afterwards he said winning meant a lot, that he was as “happy as hell”. He did not call his book a satire, he said, but was happy for it be described that way.