The Man Booker Prize

2016 - Paul Beatty

Born: 9 June, 1962, Los Angeles, California

Author's quote: “Hereos. Idols. They're never who you think they are. Shorter. Nastier. Smellier. And when you finally meet them, there's something that makes you want to choke the shit out of them.”

Field: Fiction

Prize share: 1/1

Books Written By Paul Beatty

About Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty (born June 9, 1962) is an American author and an associate professor of writing at Columbia University. In 2016, he won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sellout. It was the first time a writer from the United States was honored with the Man Booker.

In 1990, Beatty was crowned the first ever Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. One of the prizes for winning the championship title was the book deal that resulted in his first volume of poetry, Big Bank Take Little Bank (1991). This was followed by another book of poetry, Joker, Joker, Deuce (1994), and appearances performing his poetry on MTV and PBS (in the series The United States of Poetry). In 1993, he was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.
His first novel, The White Boy Shuffle (1996), received a positive review in The New York Times from reviewer Richard Bernstein, who called the book "a blast of satirical heat from the talented heart of black American life." His second book, Tuff (2000), received a positive notice in Time magazine. In 2006, Beatty edited an anthology of African-American humor called Hokum and wrote an article in The New York Times on the same subject. His 2008 novel Slumberland was about an American DJ in Berlin.

In his 2015 novel The Sellout, Beatty chronicles an urban farmer who tries to spearhead a revitalization of slavery and segregation in a fictional Los Angeles neighborhood. In The Guardian, Elisabeth Donnelly described it as "a masterful work that establishes Beatty as the funniest writer in America", while reviewer Reni Eddo-Lodge called it a "whirlwind of a satire", going on to say: "Everything about The Sellout's plot is contradictory. The devices are real enough to be believable, yet surreal enough to raise your eyebrows." The book took over five years to complete.

The Sellout was awarded the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, and the 2016 Man Booker Prize. Beatty is the first American to have won the Man Booker Prize, for which all English-language novels became eligible in 2014.



The Sellout - Paul Beatty

By Bartolo

Who writes like this? I asked myself, having been overwhelmed with satiric jabs after about 25 densely written pages. Ishmael Reed? And then why compare Beatty only to another black writer? Was that racist? Woody Allen wrote this densely, stories full of caricatures and outrageous situations, but New-York-Jewish in subject, and then only a few pages long, not an entire novel. Surely Beatty couldn't keep it up.

But by page 227 his comic inventions were still going strong. Here the protagonist converts the "long out-of-business brushless car wash" in his L.A. ghetto into a "tunnel of whiteness" for the local children, with "several race wash options:"

Regular Whiteness:
Benefit of the Doubt
Higher Life Expectancy
Lower Insurance Premiums

Deluxe Whiteness:
Regular Whiteness Plus
Warnings instead of Arrests from the Police
Decent Seats at Concerts and Sporting Events
World Revolves Around You and Your Concerns

Super Deluxe Whiteness:
Deluxe Whiteness Plus Jobs with Annual Bonuses
Military Service Is for Suckers
Legacy Admission to College of Your Choice
Therapists That Listen
Boats That You Never Use
All Vices and Bad Habits Referred to as "Phases"
Not Responsible for Scratches, Dents, and Items Left in the Subconscious

By "dense," I mean that almost every sentence contains a comic explosion, a twist, something that leaves you breathless or laughing out loud. Who does that? I thought of Barry Hannah, a Southern writer now gone. I think Hannah would have admired Beatty and recognized a literary kinsman. Also, something about Beatty's writing seemed to come from African-American oratory, its ornateness maybe, like Stanley Crouch's writing about jazz, but it wasn't self-conscious. Certainly the point of view was uniquely African-American, and I'm sure as a white reader I missed some of the inside humor. But plenty hit home with me, and would with almost any other half-alert citizen of this great land.

Speaking of which: this is a horrible time in our culture—with everyone's cell phones recording the underbelly of brutal racist policing, with political reactionaries running amok—to be attempting satire. It damn well better be funny. Beatty succeeds with a scenario that's not only side-splitting but right up to the minute. (I'm tempted to give more examples but will forbear) He's brilliant. (He's also profane and vulgar, as how could he not be? The n-word alone is used probably 1000 times)

Chris Rock can be devastatingly funny sometimes. Key & Peele can be outrageously funny sometimes. Making a barb leap off the written page is harder. As one critic said: Beatty can reduce a sacred cow to hamburger with one sentence.


The Sellout - Paul Beatty

By John Egan

I am one of many who decried opening the Man Booker Prize to writers from the US. There are already any number of other book prizes available to them and having one reserved for the Commonwealth and Ireland remains my preference. So of course this year's winner--the first by a solely US-based author--forces me to eat my words. :(

This is funny, brilliant, insightful, brave, heartbreaking. It's also a fascinating story that manages to not either disappoint or unravel in the last chapters. Paul Beatty has written a masterpiece. So why didn't it win a Putlitzer? Perhaps it cuts to close to the bone in the US?