Yesterday brought some good news with the announcement that African American writer Paul Beatty, known for his sarcastic and penetrating novels which skewer some of our attitudes towards race in the United States, was the first writer from the United States to win the Man/Booker Award for his fourth novel The Sellout. Before this novel won the Booker, it had already won the National Book Critic Circles Award here in the US and been named one of the best novels of the year by the New York Times . In addition to his three earlier novels – White Boy Shuffle, Tuff and Slumberland, Beatty edited, appropriately considering his own writing, an anthology of African American humor – Hokum .
But I also read of the deaths of two very different writers, both of whose works I appreciated and loved – poet Brigit Pegeen Kelly and science fiction, eco-feminist novelist Sheri S. Tepper.
Kelly’s first book To the Place of Trumpets won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize and she went on to win almost every poetry prize out there – the Guggenheim, NEA, National Book Critics Circle, Lamont. Her second collection, Song, was the Lamont Poetry Selection, and her third book, Orchard, was a finalist for the Pulitzer, among other awards.
Sheri Tepper started writing later in her life, and her first novels – the True Game series – have become enduring fantasy classics – but her most important and influential books are the ones which create a feminist vision of the future – notably The Gate to Women’s Country and Grass –
In addition to science fiction, Tepper also wrote enjoyable mystery stories under the pseudonyms of B. J. Oliphant and A. J. Orde. But one of my favorite novels by Tepper is her delightful The Family Tree which begins with police officer Dora Henry investigating three apparently motiveless murders whose victims were all leading geneticists and segues into a surprising fantasy.
We can look forward to more books from Paul Beatty, but all three of these authors will continue to connect with their readers.