Paul Beatty's The Sellout, a stinging satire of race and class in the US, won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday—the first time an American has taken the prestigious fiction award, the AP reports. Judges said Beatty's provocative book was a satire to rank with the classics, and as timely as the evening news. Historian Amanda Foreman, who chaired the judging panel, said the 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 Sellout is set in a rundown Los Angeles suburb called Dickens, where the residents include the last survivor of the Little Rascals and the book's narrator, Bonbon, an African-American man on trial at the US Supreme Court for attempting to reinstate slavery and racial segregation.
The book has been likened to the comedy of Richard Pryor and Chris Rock, and Beatty goes where many authors fear to tread. Racial stereotypes, offensive speech, and police violence are all subject to his scathing eye. Beatty was awarded the $61,000 prize by Prince Charles' wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a black-tie ceremony at London's medieval Guildhall. Beatty acknowledged that The Sellout was a hard book — both to read and to write. "I don't want to get all dramatic, like writing saved my life," said 54-year-old Beatty, who has written three previous novels. "But writing's given me a life. I'm just trying to create space for myself—hopefully that creates space for others." Founded in 1969 and previously open only to writers from Britain, Ireland, and the Commonwealth, the Booker expanded in 2014 to include all English-language authors.