26 Oct 2016

US writer's satire on race wins Man Booker Prize

12:01 pm on 26 October 2016

American author Paul Beatty has won the 2016 Man Booker Prize with his novel The Sellout.

US author Paul Beatty poses for a photograph at a photocall in London on October 24, 2016, ahead of tomorrow's announcement of the winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

US author Paul Beatty before the announcement that he had won this year's Man Booker Prize. Photo: AFP

He has become the first American writer to win the prize, for a caustic satire on American racial politics that judges compared to the writing of Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift.

Previously the prize was was confined to authors from the Commonwealth writing in English.

New Zealand author Eleanor Catton won the prize in 2013 for her novel The Luminaries, a novel set on the West Coast of the South Island.

The Cchair of the five judges for the £50,000 pound prize, Amanda Foreman, said The Sellout had been a unanimous choice.

"It plunges into the heart of contemporary American society with absolutely savage wit," she said.

"It manages to eviscerate every social nuance, every sacred cow, while making us laugh and also making us wince ... It is really a novel for our times."

The Sellout tells the story of an African-American, 'Bonbon', who tries to put his Californian town back on the map, from which it has been officially removed, by re-introducing slavery and segregation in the local high school.

The 289-page novel begins with Bonbon facing a hearing in the Supreme Court, looking back over the events that led up to that point.

The language is uncompromising and may offend some readers.

So might some of the content. One old black film actor asks to become Bonbon's slave - as Beatty lampoons racial stereotypes.

The protagonist's father is unjustly shot by police.

"Paul Beatty has said being offended is not an emotion. That's his answer to the reader," Ms Foreman said.

"This really is a genuine first-class piece of serious literature wrapped up in a shawl of humour."

The Sellout is 54-year-old Beatty's fourth novel. He has also edited an anthology of African-American humour.

Winning the Booker can have 'seismic' impact - previous winner

It was publisher Oneworld's second Man Booker victory after winning the 2015 prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings by Jamaican Marlon James.

Apart from the £50,000 prize, winning the Man Booker can have a major impact on a writer's sales and readership.

James told Reuters recently that winning the prize can have a "seismic" impact.

In its 48-year history, the prize has gone to authors including Salman Rushdie, Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.

Since January, the judges have read 155 novels before whittling the pile down to a longlist of 13, then a shortlist of six.

This year's shortlist comprised works by two Britons, a Briton born in Canada, a Canadian and two Americans.

Deborah Levy, whose Hot Milk was in the final six this year, has been on the shortlist before, while Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen was her debut novel.

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