Paul Beatty Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

After publishing three books of poetry, Paul Beatty (BAY-tee) turned to fiction, becoming widely known as a novelist. His novels, The White Boy Shuffle (1996), Tuff (2000), and Slumberland (2008), are comedic satires that address the complexities of African American and mainstream American culture at the turn of the millennium. Like his poetry, Beatty’s novels are praised for their urban lyricism, quick wit, and wide-reaching social commentary. Beatty has also published an eclectic and controversial collection of African American humor entitled Hokum: An Anthology of African American Humor (2006).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Before trying his hand at fiction, Paul Beatty was known as a preeminent hip-hop poet and performance artist. He was crowned the Grand Slam Champion of the New York City-based Nuyorican Poets Café in 1991 for his work as a performance poet. That same year, the Village Voice named Big Bank Take Little Bank one of the best books of the year, and soon after Newsweek declared him “the premier bard of hiphop.” Beatty’s poetry is widely acclaimed for its sharp, postmodern edge and blend of high and low cultural references, a mix that is indebted to rap music but explodes beyond its urban borders. After carrying this hip-hop aesthetic from poetry into fiction, Beatty has secured a reputation for writing dazzling novels known for their percussive language, unflinching humor, and broad cultural references. Upon publication of his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle, The New York Times declared Beatty a new fiction writer to watch. In 2009, he received a grant from the Creative Capital Foundation. Beatty is considered a premier African American poet, novelist, satirist, and cultural commentator.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ashe, Bertram. “Paul Beatty’s White Boy Shuffle Blues: Jazz Poetry, John Coltrane, and the Post-Soul Aesthetic.” In Thriving on a Rift: Jazz and Blues Influences in African American Literature and Film, edited by Graham Lock and David Murray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. This chapter examining The White Boy Shuffle deals with jazz poetry and Beatty’s style.

Grassian, Daniel. Writing the Future of Black America: Literature of the Hip-hop Generation. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009. Contains a chapter on Paul Beatty.

Rankin, Thomas. “Joker, Joker, Deuce.” In Masterplots II: African American Literature, edited by Tyrone Williams. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2009. Provides an in-depth analysis of this work.

Selinger, Eric Murphy. “Trash, Art, and Performance Poetry.” Review of Joker, Joker, Deuce. Parnassus: Poetry in Review 23, nos. 1/2 (1998): 356-382. Reviews Joker, Joker, Deuce in the context of Beatty’s production as a performance poet. One of the few full-length analyses of Beatty’s poetry, this article provides insight into the work’s motivations and impact.

Svboda, Terese. “Try Bondage.” Review of Joker, Joker, Deuce. Kenyon Review 17, no. 2 (1995): 154-160. Reviews Beatty’s book Joker, Joker, Deuce along with collections by Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Sapphire, and Marilyn Chin. Shows how Beatty deconstructs African American myths through his edgy, explosive rhymes while it praises the collection’s veracity, sharp wit, and moral stance.

Thomas, Lorenzo. “’Stuck in the Promised Land’: African American Poets at the Edge of the Twenty-first Century.” In Black Liberation in the Americas, edited by Fritz Gysin and Christopher Mulvey. Munster, Germany: Lit Verlag, 2001. Discusses the work of five young African American poets writing in the 1990’s and closely reads selections from Beatty’s Joker, Joker, Deuce. Attempts to situate their poetry as simultaneously responding to and breaking away from earlier African American literary traditions in the face of an increasingly commodified and postmodern cultural landscape.