African-American novelist Paul Beatty was named the 2016 winner of the Man Booker Prize this week, becoming the first American to ever win the prestigious award annually given to the writer of what is judged to be the best original novel written in the English language.
The 54-year-old New Yorker, an associate professor at Columbia University School of the Arts’ writing program, won out over 154 other nominees with his novel “The Sellout,” which critics have called a searing satire on U.S. race relations.
Paul Beatty is the first American to win the U.K.’s Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sellout. (Alastair Grant/AP)
The unanimous decision, the Prize judges said, was based on Beatty’s audacious and comic approach to the oft-divisive issues of race, racial and economic injustice and racial identity.
“‘The Sellout’ is a novel for our times,” Amanda Foreman, 2016 chair of judges, said in a statement. “A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humor 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 Sellout” is narrated by “Bonbon,” an African-American urban farmer living in a fictional town on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After his father, a sociologist, is killed by police during a traffic stop, the protagonist launches his own social experiment by taking on a willing slave—a former understudy for Buckwheat on “The Little Rascals.” Bonbon ends up in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstitute slavery and segregation in the local schools.
The first one-third of the novel are “the most caustic and the most badass first 100 pages of an American novel I have read in at least a decade,” wrote reviewer Dwight Garner in The New York Times. The beginning pages, he added, “read like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility.”
During the award ceremony in London on the night of Oct. 25, Beatty acknowledged the intensity of his novel: “This is a hard book. It was hard for me to write; I know it’s hard to read,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
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. Prize officials said Beatty can also expect worldwide recognition and a boost in sales. According to the Journal, “The Sellout” has already zoomed from No. 1,585 to No. 1 on Amazon.com.
Beatty is also the author of three other 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.”