Paul Beatty’s Man Booker achievement a first for the United States

Paul Beatty became the first American author to win the Man Booker Prize with his gag-laden novel titled The Sellout. American authors became eligible for the award in 2014.

The 54-year-old Beatty, a writer of three other novels namely The White Boy Shuffle, Tuff and Slumberland, spent five years working on the novel, which the New York Times called a “metaphorical, multicultural pot almost too hot to touch”.

Beatty received £50 000 in prize money, a bound edition of his book and a further £2 500 for being shortlisted.

Beatty’s book tells the story of a young black man who tries to reinstate slavery and racial segregation in a suburb of Los Angeles.

Amanda Foreman, 2016 chair of judges, said: “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.”

Beatty told the BBC that “it’s nice to know that something I’ve worked on for the last five years, if not more, has touched people, not only in the States but in the UK. That’s incredible”.

The Sellout beat five other novels, including Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, the bookies’ favourite, and Graeme Macrae Burnet’s Scottish crime thriller His Bloody Project. 

At the awards ceremony, Foreman said they had taken about four hours to reach their unanimous decision. She said The Sellout was “a novel for our times” that contained “an absolutely savage wit” reminiscent of Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain. 

The novel is narrated by Bonbon – a resident of the fictional “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, which has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment. 

Bonbon is on trial in the Supreme Court for attempting to re-institute slavery and segregation in the local high school as a means of bringing about civic order.

Beatty was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in New York.

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