Paul Beatty, first American writer to win the Man Booker Prize

This year’s most prestigious English-language literary award goes to the author of The Sellout, a ferociously ironic novel about the racial divides in Los Angeles. A small revolution for this distinction reserved until 2013 for British novelists.

the Man booker prize was awarded Tuesday, October 25 in London to the African-American writer Paul beatty for The Sellout, a novel translated into French under the title Me against the United States of America (Cambourakis editions). He is the first American author to win the famous award which, until 2013, was reserved for British, Irish and Commonwealth nationals novelists.

Paul Beatty, known for his fierce irony, likes to rub shoulders with taboos. His latest work is no exception to the rule, and tackles more than head on the relationship of Americans to their own slave past. The narrator, an African-American named Bonbon, thus makes the choice to reestablish slavery and racial segregation in today’s Los Angeles … The opportunity for Paul Beatty to pulverize American decorum and deliver a Bittersweet, uncompromising portrait of Uncle Sam’s nation.

This book is a cruel and funny satire of American society and its inequalities, the jury said. “In his affectionate and bitterly ironic portrayal of Los Angeles and its people, Paul Beatty avoids conventional views on race relations,” explains the jury which has crowned writers like Salman rushdie, Margaret Atwood or Richard Flanagan. Historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired the jury this year, went so far as to compare her to Jonathan Zwift and Mark Twain.

Taste of images and poetry

This is the first time that an American has received this award since its inception forty-eight years ago. Paul Beatty was born in 1962 in Los Angeles and now lives in New York. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. During his studies, one of his teachers told him that he would never be successful as a novelist … “I don’t like to write. It’s hard. You have to sit down … I am a perfectionist, and I get discouraged easily. I am hard on myself and tend to sabotage myself. But when I write, I try to stay confident ”, said the winner of the Man Booker Prize.

He had already published three novels, two of which have appeared in France: American Prophet (Northwest Passage editor) and Slumberland (Editions du Seuil). Before embarking on fiction, he had started by writing poetry. In 1990, he was crowned Grand Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe which allowed him to edit Big Bank Takes Little Bank, sound first collection of poems, followed shortly after by a second volume Joker, Joker, Deuce.

From this detour through poetry, Paul Beatty’s writing retains a taste for images. In The Sellout, the author also likes to mix various registers (strong language, orality), thus restoring the cultural abundance of the city of Los Angeles.

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Paul Beatty, first American writer to win the Man Booker Prize

Hank Gilbert