The genre of Black American literary satire has had quite an electric resurgence over the past few years. What was once a seemingly small archive that included George Schuyler, Fran Ross, Ishmael Reed, and Ralph Ellison has expanded to comprise such contemporary writers as Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Mateo Askaripour, and, most important, Paul Beatty, whose 2015 novel, The Sellout, will be discussed at the February 18 gathering of Alta’s California Book Club.
The Sellout charts a young man’s calamitous life growing up on the outskirts of south Los Angeles and the criminal trial that takes him all the way to the Supreme Court. More than anything, The Sellout is concerned with a young man’s relationship with his deceased father, with his father’s endlessly complicated past, and with his hometown, one that has been effaced from all maps, rendered real only in memory.
None of these dynamics, however, are treated with any serious or melancholic contemplation. Instead, they become opportunities for humor, irony, outrage, and intrigue. After the death of his father at the hands of police officers, the narrator inherits land and begins to make a living selling weed and square-shaped watermelon on horseback. The removal of his town’s name sends a friend of the narrator’s father into a suicidal spiral and, to heal, he begs the narrator to take him in as a slave.
Are you still following, reader? I’ll stop there—you’ll have to discover the rest on your own! But prepare yourself: The Sellout is zany, provocative, and even more bizarre than you could possibly imagine.
Beatty has given us a remarkable novel that reminds us of the great absurdities of today’s most pressing issues. Yet The Sellout is not simply irreverent regarding the complexities of, for example, race, Blackness, and history. In fact, Beatty’s very ability to satirize these themes highlights his incredible grasp of what it means to talk about power and structural oppression. The Sellout is quite the ride, one that will invariably leave you with more questions than answers.
To join Alta’s California Book Club conversation with Beatty on February 18, click here.
Did you miss last week’s CBC event with Elaine Castillo and host John Freeman? If yes, then be sure to check out the recap and a recording of the event here. Alta
WHAT DIDION MEANS
Beloved California writer Joan Didion is coming to us with a new book, titled Let Me Tell You What I Mean, a collection of never-before-gathered pieces of her earlier work. In his review of the collection, Alta’s books editor, David L. Ulin, considers the arc of Didion’s incredible career. Alta
WORDS AND JOURNEYS
On Wednesday, January 27, Robert Lovato, author of Unforgetting, will join Ben Ehrenreich, author of Desert Notebooks, for a conversation on war, immigration, humanity, and the written word. Find out more here. Alta Live
URSULA K. LE GUIN STAMPS
The U.S. Literary Arts stamp series began in 1979 and honors writers of the American literary canon. Previous writers have included John Steinbeck, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston. Now, in its 33rd year, the Literary Arts series pays tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin. USPS
INAUGURAL YOUTH POET
Twenty-two-year-old Los Angeles native Amanda Gorman made headlines after reading an exquisite poem at President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’s inauguration last week. Want to know how it all happened? Find out more here. Los Angeles Times
Curious about California van life? Well, look no further. Writer Amanda Mei Kim describes her itinerant childhood. Literary Hub
MLK AND VIETNAM
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER ESSENTIALS
Octavia E. Butler was an American science-fiction writer and author of many novels, including Wild Seed and Parable of the Sower. A two-time winner of the Hugo Award, Butler was the first sci-fi writer to become the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant. If you haven’t read any of her work, you need to check out this guide. New York Times
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