News & Events
Daniel Hack: The Sellout and a tradition of black anglophilia
Daniel Hack is the author of Reaping Something New: African American Transformations of Victorian Literature, an examination of the intricate ways in which Victorian literature was put to use in African American literature and print culture throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This year’s recipient of the Man Booker Prize, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, honors that tradition in subtle but undeniable ways.
For the first 34 years of its existence, only novelists from Great Britain and certain Commonwealth counties were eligible for the Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the English-speaking world. In 2014, eligibility was extended to all novelists writing in English, a controversial change that dismayed many worried about the reach of American culture, or simply loathe to dilute this highly successful means of celebrating and publicizing anglophone fiction produced in places other than the U.S. Sure enough, this week the prize went to an American, with Paul Beatty winning for The Sellout, a gleefully satirical novel in which an African American narrator recounts his attempt to reinstitute segregation and even slavery in a “ghetto” on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Yet instead of simply confirming American cultural hegemony or, alternatively, the meaninglessness of national boundaries in this age of global literature, the choice of The Sellout calls attention to the distinctive and important historical relationship between African American literature and British literature, and between African American writers and Great Britain. The Sellout references and revives this history, in ways both pointed and hilarious.