Britain’s worst literary fears came true Tuesday: An American novelist won the Man Booker Prize.
Paul Beatty, 54, became the first American in 48 years to win the prestigious award for “The Sellout,” his satire of class and race (the novel’s African American narrator is on trial for trying to reinstate slavery and racial segregation).
“The Sellout” beat out five other novels on the shortlist: “Eileen” by Otessa Moshfegh (U.S.); the favorite “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeleine Thien (Canada); “All That Man Is” by David Szalay (Canada-UK); “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK); and “Hot Milk” by Deborah Levy (UK). The prize comes with a 50,000 pound check (that’s $61,000 in U.S. dollars).
Historian Amanda Foreman, chair of the judging panel, compared the book to works by Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain.
“This is a book that nails the reader to the cross with cheerful abandon,” she said at the ceremony at the black tie dinner at London’s Guildhall. “That is why the book works — because while you’re being nailed, you’re being tickled.”
Once open only to writers from Britain, Ireland and the Commonwealth, the Booker expanded in 2014 to include all English-language authors. The British literary world feared American dominance, but Australian Richard Flanagan won in 2014 for “A Narrow Road to the Deep North” and Jamaica’s Marlon James won in 2015 for “A Brief History of Seven Killings.”