Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a book about a black man trying to reinstitute slavery and segregation in his Los Angeles community, eventually leading to a Supreme Court battle, has won the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
First awarded in 1969 to authors in the British Commonwealth and Ireland, the award was opened up to all English-language books in 2014—Beatty is the first American author to win it. Beatty was awarded the $61,000 prize by Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, wife to Prince Charles.
The chair of the judging panel, historian Amanda Foreman, said that Beatty’s book “plunges into the heart of contemporary American society, and with absolutely savage wit — the kind I haven’t seen since (Jonathan) Swift or (Mark) Twain.” The panel spent four hours on Tuesday choosing the winner from six finalists that had been whittled down from an original 155 submissions. The decision to award it to Beatty was unanimous, even though his book was considered a long shot by oddsmakers.
Foreman said that the book addressed “the complexities that modern society is confronting now.”
Beatty said at the ceremony in London, “I don’t want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life. But writing’s given me a life.” He also stressed that his point-of-view wasn’t the only one and that there should be more room for diverse voices. “I’m just trying to create space for myself,” he said. “Hopefully that creates space for others.”