Paul Beatty, an associate professor in the writing program of the School of the Arts at Columbia University in New York City, has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize from the Booker Prize Foundation in England. The prize comes with a monetary award of £50,000.
Professor Beatty is not only the first African American to win the distinguished award, he is the first American to do so. The Man Booker Prize has been given out annually since 1969. Originally, only authors from the United Kingdom, Ireland, and British Commonwealth nations were eligible. In 2014, the foundation expanded those eligible by including any book written in English and published in the United Kingdom.
Professor Beatty was honored for his novel The Sellout (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015), which explores the legacy of slavery and racial and economic inequality in the United States in the context of the context of an unjust police shooting of an African American man in Los Angeles. The man’s son – the sellout – seeks to break away his neighborhood from the city and reinstate slavery and resegregate the schools.
Amanda Foreman, chair of the judging committee stated that “The Sellout is one of those very rare books which is able to take satire, which is a very difficult subject and not always done well, and plunge it into the heart of contemporary American society with a savage wit of the kind I haven’t seen since Swift or Twain.”
Beatty is a native of Los Angeles. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Boston University and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Brooklyn College in New York. Before joining the faculty at Columbia University, Beatty taught at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Beatty has written three other novels and two books of poetry.