25 October 2016
- Paul Beatty becomes first American writer to win prestigious prize
- Second consecutive win for independent publisher Oneworld
The Sellout by Paul Beatty is named winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. The Sellout is published by small independent publisher Oneworld, who had their first win in 2015 with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings.
The 54-year-old New York resident, born in Los Angeles, is the first American author to win the prize in its 48-year history. US authors became eligible in 2014. The 2016 shortlist included two British, two US, one Canadian and one British-Canadian writer.
The Sellout is a searing satire on race relations in contemporary America. The Sellout is described by The New York Times as a ‘metaphorical multicultural pot almost too hot to touch’, whilst the Wall Street Journal called it a ‘Swiftian satire of the highest order. Like someone shouting fire in a crowded theatre, Mr. Beatty has whispered “Racism” in a postracial world.’
The book is narrated by African-American ‘Bonbon’, a resident of the run-down town of Dickens in Los Angeles county, which has been removed from the map to save California from embarrassment. Bonbon is being tried in the Supreme Court for attempting to reinstitute slavery and segregation in the local high school as means of bringing about civic order. What follows is a retrospective of this whirlwind scheme, populated by cartoonish characters who serve to parody racial stereotypes. The framework of institutional racism and the unjust shooting of Bonbon’s father at the hands of police are particularly topical.
Amanda Foreman, 2016 Chair of judges, comments: ‘The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.’
Though Beatty cites satirists Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut as formative influences, he remarked to The Paris Review that he was ‘surprised that everybody keeps calling this a comic novel… I’m not sure how I define it.’
This is the second consecutive Man Booker Prize success for independent publisher Oneworld, following Marlon James’ win with A Brief History of Seven Killings in 2015.
Amanda Foreman was joined on the 2016 panel of judges by Jon Day, Abdulrazak Gurnah, David Harsent and Olivia Williams. The judges considered 155 books for this year’s prize, including a total of 11 call-ins.
In addition to his £50,000 prize and trophy, Beatty also receives a designer bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.
On winning the Man Booker Prize, an author can expect international recognition, plus a dramatic increase in book sales. Last year’s winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, has gone on to sell over 360,000 copies in the UK and Commonwealth, as well as 120,000 in the US. When accepting his prize, James said, ‘I just met Ben Okri and it just reminded me of how much of my literary sensibilities were shaped by the Man Booker Prize… It suddenly increases your library by 13 books.’
Other recent winners have included Hilary Mantel (2012 and 2009), whose Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have led to award-winning adaptations on stage and screen, and Julian Barnes (2011), whose The Sense of an Ending will soon be adapted for film. Other winning novels that have gone on to have second or third lives on stage and screen include Schindler’s Ark (directed by Steven Spielberg as Schindler’s List), The Remains of the Day and The English Patient.
This is the third year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, the prize was open only to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. The 2016 shortlist included two British, two US, one Canadian and one British-Canadian writer.
First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading award for high quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners features many of the giants of the last four decades: from Salman Rushdie to Margaret Atwood, Iris Murdoch to JM Coetzee.
Paul Beatty’s win was announced by Amanda Foreman at a black-tie dinner at London’s Guildhall, where he was presented with a trophy from HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and a £50,000 cheque from Luke Ellis, Chief Executive of Man Group. Guests at the event, which was broadcast live on the BBC News Channel, included the shortlisted authors, well-known figures from the literary world and VIPs including AS Byatt, Ben Okri, Karen Bradley, John Hurt and Fiona Shaw.
Paul Beatty will take part in will take part in his first public event as winner at a New Statesman-partnered event at Foyles on Friday 28 October 2016.
Royal Mail is issuing a congratulatory postmark featuring the winner’s name, which will be applied to millions of items of stamped mail nationwide from Wednesday 26 to Saturday 29 October 2016. It will say ‘Congratulations to Paul Beatty, winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize’.
Man Group has sponsored the prize since 2002. One of the world’s largest independent alternative investment managers, Man Group is a partner that mirrors the quality, integrity and longevity of the prize.