Paul Beatty with his Booker book, The Sellout Image: Facebook
Before this year's biggest American outcome (read Prez race) is announced this November, a certain Columbia professor has taken the world by storm. Paul Beatty has become the first American writer to ever win the Man Booker Prize. Beatty's fourth novel The Sellout is a hard-hitting satire on the race relations in America, and there could not have been a better time for this victory.
The 54-year-old author studied creative writing and poetry at the Brooklyn College, New York, and was once told by one of his professors that he would never be a success as a writer. Interestingly, writing is not Beatty's favourite vocation. In his acceptance speech, at the London ceremony, Beatty proclaims, "I hate writing."
“This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything," says the narrator of The Sellout in the book. The relatively slim volume, of 289 pages, focuses on a narrator, referred to as 'Me', who attempts to revive slavery and racial discrimination in a LA suburbian outskirt, hilariously named Dickens. Amid the relentless police brutality and failure of weapons monitoring, Beatty's win for The Sellout stands as a massive neon flashing signboard.
Beatty lived in Berlin in 1996, making him one of the very few black people living in the German city. Beatty's struggles of being a black artiste is deeply etched in all of his novels. In '96, he published his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle, which went on to be a significant work of fiction, in context of cultural appropriation. His 2008 novel Slumberland is about a DJ, who travels to post-Wall Berlin in search of his doppelganger. One might say, all of his works are linked in a seamless patchwork of identity and origins.
Not many people know that Beatty did his Masters in creative writing under Allen Ginsberg. But going by his style of fiction and language, Ginsberg taught him what not to do as a writer.
At Guildhall in London, where the prize-giving ceremony took place, Beatty was awarded 50,000 pounds (Rs 40 lakh approx) by the Duchess of Cornwall. Beatty makes a humble, yet emphatic speech, recalling some of his favourite writers. He admires Kurt Vonnegut and likes movies with nothing going on. His Booker win has given the literary world a taste of how history and pop culture shapes time.