All about Paul Beatty, first American writer to win Man Booker Prize

Paul Beatty attends the 2016 Man Booker Prize at The Guildhall on Oct 25, 2016 in London.
Paul Beatty attends the 2016 Man Booker Prize at The Guildhall on Oct 25, 2016 in London.PHOTO: REUTERS

Writer Paul Beatty has become the first American to win the Man Booker Prize, since the award was controversially opened to authors from outside Ireland and the Commonwealth in 2014.

The Straits Times takes a look at the 54-year-old Beatty's career.


The Los Angeles-born Beatty, who now lives in New York, got his start in poetry.

After winning Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, he published two volumes of poetry - Big Bank Take Little Bank in 1991 and Joker, Joker, Deuce in 1994.

Beatty then abandoned poetry for prose, debuting with a novel, The White Boy Shuffle, in 1996.

He followed with two other novels - Tuff (2000) and Slumberland (2008) - before coming out with his Booker-winning The Sellout in 2015.


Beatty's novel The Sellout was no underdog, but neither was it the hot favourite. Canadian writer Madeleine Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing, about the Cultural Revolution in China, was leading the pack in the six-book shortlist.

But head judge Amanda Foreman said The Sellout was "a novel for our times" that won the judges' unanimous approval after four hours of deliberation.


Beatty took seven years to write The Sellout, the narrator of which is a rural African American man who goes before the US Supreme Court seeking to bring back slavery and segregation.

It opens with the line "This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I've never stolen anything".

The Guardian has described it as "both a comic set piece and a slow-motion tragedy" and Foreman called the novel "a first-class piece of serious literature wrapped up in a shawl of humour".

The Sellout also won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction in 2015.


Beatty earned a master of fine arts degree at Brooklyn College, where he studied under the cult Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Beatty also holds a master's degree in psychology from Boston University and has said that the psychology of race - how people conceive of their identity - provides rich fodder for his work.

"I hope that in my audience of weirdos, there's some of those people of all races," Beatty told The Paris Review in 2015.

"As people of colour, as black people, we all have to have this ability to speak these different languages and make these different references - we don't have to have it, but it helps."

He has also told the media that he does not ignore the political dimensions of race in his writing.

One of the characters in his novel Tuff is based on the late Japanese American radical activist Yuri Kochiyama, who was a close ally of Malcolm X. Kochiyama, who died in 2014, even attended one of Beatty's book parties.

Sources: The Paris Review, The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC News