Literary critic Ron Charles and author Paul Beatty discuss Beatty’s prize-winning novel The Sellout during the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Roundtable presentation on Thursday in the Hall of Philosophy. Charles asked Beatty about a scene toward the end of the novel, where a black comedian yells at a white couple for laughing at his routine. He tells them to leave.
“Here I am, a white guy, reading this hilarious black book, and I’m laughing,” Charles said. “And at the end, I’m told, ‘get out.’”
Beatty said he thought about it in terms of readers wanting an agenda.
“Reading this and saying, ‘Tell me what I’m supposed to think’ — that’s a problem,” Beatty said. “That’s a problem. The other problem is going, ‘Hey, I’m a white guy,’ and hiding behind a wall. You can’t do that. I don’t mean that as a white person, I mean that as people. We can’t do that.”
Beatty elaborated, talking about some of the readers he’s met while presenting The Sellout who have been surprised by how much they enjoyed the book. He said that thinking about literature in the black-and-white terms of one’s identity can be limiting.
“Instead of going, ‘Hey, what is it about me that’s giving me pause?,’ it’s easier to say, ‘I’m white and I don’t get it,’ ‘I’m a guy and I don’t get it,’” Beatty said. “I’ve never read like that — thank goodness. I read stuff that I should hate, but there’s something about it that’s appealing. And I think we don’t talk about these things: liking something you’re not supposed to like. We try to create these rules.” ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
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