Paul Beatty has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for The Sellout. His work satirises the hypocrisy and contradictions of racial politics in the US, drawing attention to the effects of economic and social segregation on the black communities of America. This most recent novel tells the story of an African-American visionary who reinstates slavery and segregation in his LA suburb to put it back on the map, and the subsequent Supreme Court trial – ‘Me v the United States of America’. Beatty’s second novel, Tuff, explores the world of NYC gangs and the mentors who promise to save black men from a life of crime through capitalism. White Boy Shuffle, his first novel, explores the history of black leadership through a black poet with a European name, Gunnar Kaufman, who is moved by his mother from Santa Monica to the ‘hood in search of authentic black experience. Gunnar witnesses police oppression (the LAPD are ‘dressed to oppress’), riots (a ‘psychological placebo’, a ‘vitriolic stimulant’ and ‘Carnival, ghetto style’) and gang culture (Psycho Loco and his gang, the Gun Toting Hooligans, are laugh out loud parodies).
Throughout his work, Beatty focuses on the roles of parents in shaping his young black and male protagonists, and the transmission of the legacies of slavery and segregation from one generation to the next. On Radio 4 this morning, Beatty said his work contemplates ‘how we measure progress’.
This award should propel Beatty’s earlier novels back into print; come on Random House, this stuff deserves a wider readership.