Paul Beatty is the first American author to win the Man Booker Prize. Beatty won the award for his sharp satirical novel The Sellout, which concerns the story of a young black man who tries to reinstate slavery and racial segregation in a suburb of Los Angeles. According to the BBC, “Amanda Foreman, chair of the judges, said the book managed ‘to eviscerate every social taboo.'” Beatty said, “This is a hard book. It was a hard for me to write, I know it’s hard to read. Everyone’s coming at it from different angles.”
While this novel is garnering Beatty some much-deserved attention, he was a poet before he tried his hand at prose. Back in 1994 he was interviewed about his “hip-hop poetry” for BOMB Magazine. The interview reveals how early in his career Beatty was thinking about how to write about race in America; it presciently begins, “Paul Beatty is prepared to take his place as a voice of a generation.”
Christian Haye: How do you feel about being labeled a hip-hop poet?
Paul Beatty: I don’t know. I think it’s a very shallow label. My work is influenced by hip-hop, whatever hip-hop is, but I don’t think it’s hip-hop poetry. To me, that’s just an easy way of categorizing a young male, blah blah blah. I also know that people do see it for what it is, so that really doesn’t bother me. That’s their bug, and I try not to let it block me at all.
For more on the coded way critics discuss black writers, the significance of The Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and why poets sometimes pose for Gap ads, download the PDF and read more here.