A black American winning the Man Booker Prize in 2016? I didn’t think Americans were welcome in those august circles. Then I read The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015). And I listened to Slumberland (Bloomsbury, 2008). Paul Beatty is a genius.
His first published writing was poetry. The rhythm of his prose reflects this. It was noticeable in The Sellout, but Slumberland, when read aloud, is narrative poetry, sans rhyme. Some credit also goes to the excellent narrator, Kevin Free.
Sound too highbrow for you? Think again. Beatty is an audacious satirist. In The Sellout, he turns political correctness on its head. The plot is so far over the top that there might as well not be any, unless it is homage to negritude. Slumberland takes you into the murky nightclub world of African-American jazz in Berlin 1989, through the eyes and ears of D.J. Darky and his phonographic memory. Again, not much in the way of plot, but mesmerizing and funny and oh, so funky.
My humble take on the inclusion of American authors for the Man Booker Prize—keep the U.S. out. Man Booker has always been the doorway for us to great writers in English from the U.K. and Commonwealth countries. Conversely, Paul Beatty would likely be unknown to me if he had not won.