Our author of the week is Paul Beatty, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for his fourth novel, The Sellout, and the first American to claim the award.
Born in Los Angeles in 1962, Beatty holds degrees in psychology and creative writing, and started off his career as a poet, publishing his debut collection Big Bank Take Little Bank in 1991. He published his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle, in 1996, a postmodern look at coming-of-age, identity, and race.
The Sellout is driven by energy and lyricism, a sharp satire on themes including the legacy of slavery, segregation and the American justice system. Set in a fictional Los Angeles suburb and narrated by a character known as Me, Beatty’s novel has drawn a variety of different critical responses, but one word seems to resound: hilarity, exemplified by simple but brilliant devices like a court case named ‘Me vs United States of America.’
Reviewing the novel for Cherwell last autumn, Benjamin Davies praised Beatty’s “ability to make both the comic and tragic uncomfortable, just clauses apart, making this book feel unique.”
Though certainly not unknown in American literary circles, Paul Beatty has been credited with widening and challenging expectations, reflecting a desire to write honestly and originally and firmly reinforcing the importance of satire in the sight of publishers and critics.