Paul Beatty began his career as a poet and was crowned the first Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York. Beatty draws from a variety of pop-culture sources—hip-hop, jazz, comic books, kung-fu films, basketball—as inspiration for his work. Satirical and darkly humorous, Beatty’s writing takes aim at hot topics such as Afrocentrism, white liberal political correctness, academics, athletics, and multiculturalism.
Paul Beatty spent his month at the Gardner Museum in early 2000 writing. In October of the same year, he returned to give an Eye of the Beholder talk in the Spanish Cloister, discussing his work and reading from his new novel Tuff (2000). During this time, Beatty also led a poetry workshop for teens from the Alternative School at Little House. The students spent time viewing and talking about the special exhibition Rembrandt Creates Rembrandt, and then wrote about their own sense of identity: the different roles they play, how they are viewed by others, and how they view themselves. Working with students both at the Alternative School and the Museum, Beatty had students find adjectives to describe themselves, first as they are in school and then as they are out of school. Each participant then wrote a poem using adjectives from both lists. Over the course of the project, the students came to see Beatty as a role model and mentor who enriched their lives as well as their writing.
After publishing two collections of poetry, Big Bank Takes Little Bank (1991) and Joker, Joker, Deuce (1994), Beatty moved to prose with the publication of his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle in 1996. In 2016, Beatty won the Man Booker Prize as well as a National Book Critics Circle Award for The Sellout (2015). Beatty received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Brooklyn College and an M.A. in psychology from Boston University; he currently teaches writing at Columbia University.