Just recently got a chance to interview Paul Beatty, who I used to read poetry with in the Nuyorican Poets Café and ultimately as a member of Nuyorican Poets Cafe Live, a touring group of spoken word artists in the mid-90s. Paul was the first Grand Slam champion the café produced, and the changes the new spoken word performance style brought about created a lot of ambivalence in both of us.
Still Paul had a spell-binding lyrical genius that was difficult for me to match, and he was smart enough to make the transition from that scene to becoming a novelist by millennium’s end. While I’d found his earlier works like Whiteboy Shuffle. Tuff, and Slumberland engaging enough, this new book The Sellout is an exhilarating tour de force that will probably be remembered as a masterpiece.
It’s not exactly a page turner, it’s page on page of hallucinatory brilliance, slaying forever the idea of a post-racial society yet at the same time not claiming to have a fixed idea of blackness, whiteness, or in-between-ness for that matter. That’s what’s kind of liberating about it. Essentialism mostly bites the dust, but strategically, there are important tie-ins here designed to resurrect one’s own racial humanity.