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Man Booker prize 2016: Paul Beatty’s win and what it means for writers

With Paul Beatty winning the Man Booker Prize 2016, we speak to several authors about the significance of the award being opened to American writers.

books Updated: Dec 28, 2016 12:00 IST
Kaushani Banerjee
Kaushani Banerjee
Hindustan Times
Man Booker prize 2016,Paul Beatty,The Sellout
On October 25, Paul Beatty became the first American to be awarded the Booker for his satirical novel, The Sellout.(REUTERS)

The Man Booker Prize is considered to be one of the most-coveted literary awards for British and post-colonial novels (from countries that gained independence from Britain in the 19th and 20th centuries). But after a rule change in 2014, Britain’s richest writing prize now allows authors of any nationality to be eligible for the award. On October 25, Paul Beatty became the first American to be awarded the Booker for his satirical novel, The Sellout.

In fact, last year, US author Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Against At A Decent Hour was also on the list. However, closer home, Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter missed the shortlist this year. Here, we speak to several authors about the broadening of the prize and its impact on a global audience.

Arunava Sinha - Translator of several Bengali novels, including Chowringhee

Arunava Sinha feels it would be fun to see the reception of the novel in the US now that Beatty has won the prize.

I’m sure the jury chose the best book out of the shortlist. Even the novel that was expected to win this year, Madeline Thein’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, is a novel by a Canadian writer. It’s interesting to note that the book was rejected 18 times and was published by the same publishing house (One World) that published last year’s Marlon James-award winning book. It will be fun to see the reception the novel receives in the US now.

William Dalrymple - Author of City of Djinns

With Beatty winning this year, it changes how we look at the prize internationally, says William Dalrymple.

It’s been two years since the Booker chose to include authors from other countries. The Pultizer centres around America, while the Booker used to focus on the Commonwealth. But now, even the Samuel Johnson Prize recognises American authors. With Beatty winning this year, it changes how we look at the prize internationally. The shortlist is a pretty reliable collection, but there are numerous examples of the Booker not getting it right, for example Martin Amis’s Money. It was one of the greatest novels of the ’80s.

Kiran Nagarkar - Author of Ravan & Eddie

Kiran Nagarkar is notable among Indian writers for having written acclaimed novels in more than one language. (Hindustan Times)

I think that America is numero uno in literature as it is so bizarrely considered and covered non-stop in politics. Are there no Indian or Pakistani authors, not to mention African, Indonesian or any other ones who make the grade? Let’s not forget that a prize is given by a panel of judges. Often, one’s own take on the chosen book might be very different from that of the jury. But that is the nature of the beast, as is evident from the controversy about this year’s Nobel Prize in literature that was given to Bob Dylan.

Nilanjana Roy - Author of The Wildings

Author Nilanjana Roy feels it will be a challenge for judges of Man Booker Prize to do justice to such a large pool of writers every single year. (Hindustan Times)

The Booker had to outgrow from its Commonwealth roots at some point. This year’s shortlist is probably the best response to those who feared that opening the Prize to Americans would mean that famous, well-known authors would benefit at the expense of quieter writers or debut writers. But it’s a challenge for judges, and I’m not sure if it’s possible to do justice to such a large pool of writers every year. There’s always the danger of losing focus. But I’m not going to worry about that now, given how good Paul Beatty is.

Patrick French - Author of The World Is What It Is

The Sellout is an extreme satire and it’s a very different kind of American novel says author Patrick French. (Satish Bate/HT)

Paul Beatty is a tremendous winner for the Man Booker Prize this year. The Sellout is an extreme satire. It’s a very different kind of American novel. For two years in a row, first with Marlon James and now with Beatty, the British literary establishment has given the Booker to a transgressive black writer. That definitely says something about the way literature is changing.


- Over the years, several Indians have won the Booker Prize — Aravind Adiga for The White Tiger (2008), Kiran Desai for The Inheritance of Loss (2006), Arundhati Roy for The God of Small Things (1997), VS Naipaul for his short story, In a Free State (1971), and Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children (1981).

- Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children was awarded the Booker of Bookers in 1993. The novel was the first one to win the award in 25 years, since the inception of the Man Booker Prize in 1969.

- In 2012, Indian writer Jeet Thayil made it to the shortlist with his debut novel, Narcopolis.

- Rohinton Mistry was nominated twice — in 1991 and in 1996 — for Such a Long Journey and A Fine Balance, respectively.

First Published: Oct 30, 2016 11:54 IST