Paul Beatty is the author of three novels—Slumberland, Tuff, and The White Boy Shuffle—and two books of poetry: Big Bank Take Little Bank and Joker, Joker, Deuce. He is the editor of Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor. He lives in New York City.
Raised in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—improbably smack in the middle of downtown L.A.—the narrator of The Sellout resigned himself to the fate of all other middle-class Californians: “to die in the same bedroom you'd grown up in, looking up at the crack in the stucco ceiling that had been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist at Riverside Community College, he spent his childhood as the subject in psychological studies, classic experiments revised to include a racially-charged twist. He also grew up believing this pioneering work might result in a memoir that would solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a shoot out with the police, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral and some maudlin what-ifs.
Fuelled by this injustice and the general disrepair of his down-trodden hometown, he sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins, our narrator initiates a course of action—one that includes reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school—destined to bring national attention. These outrageous events land him with a law suit heard by the Supreme Court, the latest in a series of cases revolving around the thorny issue of race in America.
The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the most sacred tenets of the U.S. Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.