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Paul Beatty is the first American writer ever to win the Booker Prize

The Duchess Of Cornwall Presents The 2016 Man Booker Prize Photo by John Phillips - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Paul Beatty just became the first American ever to win the Man Booker Prize, for his tragicomic racial satire The Sellout.

The Booker is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the English-speaking world; the New Statesman has called it, only semi-jokingly, “a kingmaker.” And traditionally, it is a very, very British award — so British that it was eligible only to citizens of the Commonwealth countries, Ireland, and Zimbabwe until 2013. Now, any English-language novel that has been published in the UK is eligible. (It’s been suggested that this rule-change came about to prevent the newly announced international Folio Prize from stealing the Booker’s thunder.)

Since the Booker’s borders were opened, none of the winners have been British. In 2013, the honor went to Eleanor Catton of New Zealand. In 2014, it went to Richard Flanagan of Australia. Last year it went to Marlon James of Jamaica.

Beatty’s win continues more than just the trend of the triumph of international authors — it also speaks to the Booker’s growing interest in novels about racial issues. Last year, Marlon James won for A Brief History of Seven Killings, a racially charged novel that deals with, among other things, the crack wars of the 1980s. Beatty’s Sellout, meanwhile, was described by the New York Times as “the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility.”

Even before the Booker win, The Sellout was well-laureled, receiving a National Book Critics Circle Award. But Beatty has said that he thinks of his books as appealing to small and particular groups:

I was talking to a friend and she said, Your audience is just a bunch of weirdos. But she meant it in a very positive way. There’s a special kind of weirdo who’s going to appreciate it. At least, I think that’s what she was saying.

A lot of special weirdos are going to be very happy with the news of this win.


Correction: This article misstated the Booker’s original eligibility rules. It was open to citizens of all Commonwealth countries, not just Britain.

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