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Paul Beatty interview

Paul Beatty interview

Paul Beatty tells us how he doesn’t lay on the welcome mat for his reader but leaves the door ajar, and that he hopes The Sellout is a damn good book.

This is part of our series of Man Booker Prize 2016 longlisted author interviews.    

What has it been like to be longlisted?

Who knew I had so many friends? Seriously, it’s been a nice capstone to what’s been a decent summer. Being shy and a bit of a recluse, I’m not someone who handles attention very well. I know some construe my work as being ‘difficult,’ maybe because they feel it conflates varying ideologies and languages, embraces contradiction…Once, as a panellist at a book festival, I was forced to undergo the dreaded ‘Why do you write? What do you hope to achieve?’ line of questioning. I had no idea what to say until the writer to my right said something along the lines of ‘I try to invite the reader in…’ and I realized that I do the opposite. Not that I disinvite the reader, but I sure don’t lay out the welcome mat and announce ‘make yourself at home.’ I simply leave the door ajar and trust that the reader doesn’t feel the need to ask for permission and will make themselves at home on their own accord. In any case, it’s great to be appreciated. Langston Hughes summed it up best in his poem Motto, ‘My motto,
as I live and learn, is dig and be dug in return’.

What are you working on next?

I’m a slow writer, and an even slower thinker, which is a long way of saying nothing that I’m ready to talk about. 

What are you reading at the moment?

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Sam Lipsyte’s Homeland. Didn’t realize how similar the titles are until now. But having started with Shawn Wong’s Homebase in the mid-90s, maybe I’m subconsciously planning to read all the books whose titles start with Home…

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

Okay, please don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t read a single ‘winning’ Man Booker novel. However, among the Man Booker finalists, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Tibor Fischer’s Under the Frog are two of my favourite reads.

Some critics have referred to The Sellout as satire, a designation you have denied. How would you define the book?

Hopefully, it’s just a damn good book.     

Paul Beatty