Douglas Stuart wins Booker Prize for 'Shuggie Bain'

Lawrence Kim
November 20, 2020

Stuart dedicated the book to own mother, who died when he was 16.

Asked what it meant to write down the semi-autobiographical story of Hugh, Stuart said: "For 30 years I've carried an bad lot of loss and love and pain, and I wanted, really, just to tell the story of what it was like to grow up queer in Glasgow, to grow up with a parent who you love but you couldn't save".

Early responses from editors were equally discouraging: More than 30 publishers rejected the book.

It is Stuart's first published novel.

The award, which was announced Thursday, will likely draw a large new audience to the novel, which came out earlier this year.

In contrast, the United Kingdom ceremony maintained some live elements, taking over the Roundhouse performance venue in London, which for the hour-long event was populated only by the host, British journalist John Wilson; previous victor Bernardine Evaristo; judges chair Margaret Busby and the four-piece Chineke! "To some extent, I think anybody who reads it will never feel the same".

It's a story about love, queer sexuality and a mother struggling with alcohol addiction.

The novel, inspired by Stuart's upbringing in 1980s Glasgow, Scotland, is shortlisted for the Booker Prize and has received wide acclaim for its raw, gritty portrayal of addiction and growing up in poverty. He devotes himself to caring for his mother, Agnes, sometimes skipping school to make sure she doesn't harm herself and checking on her when she passes out drunk.

Stuart's book won from a shortlist that was notable for having four debut novels, and no "big names". Three other debut novels - Burnt Sugar by Indian-origin writer Avni Doshi, The New Wilderness by Diane Cook and Real Life by Brandon Taylor - featured in the six-book shortlist.

He was awarded the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction on Thursday.

Stuart is the second Scottish writer to win the award after Kelman scooped the 1994 prize for How Late It Was, How Late.

A directive was given to the 2020 judging panel stipulating they could only pick one victor this year, even if this was decided by majority vote instead of a unanimous decision.

Busby was joined on the judging panel by writers Lee Child, Sameer Rahim and Lemn Sissay, as well as classicist Emily Wilson.

This year's ceremony included a star-studded lineup of guest speakers.

Special guests included novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, victor of a Booker and the Nobel Prize in literature; Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; and former U.S. President Obama, whose memoir "A Promised Land" hit shelves Tuesday and sold almost 890,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada on its first day.

The ceremony also saw the Duchess of Cornwall discuss the value of reading during the pandemic. Previous winners, including Kazuo Ishiguro, Atwood and Evaristo, also spoke.

But literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation Gaby Wood said: "Last year there was a rule break".

The novel is Stuart's first book. "But actually when you reread it, you find it's quite daring".

"First of all, I will like to thank my mother...my mother is on every page of this book - I've been clear, without her I wouldn't be here, my work wouldn't be here".

Though there have been many British winners of the Booker Prize, majority English, Stuart is the first Scottish victor since James Kelman took the 1994 prize with "How Late it Was, How Late" - a book Stuart has called an inspiration.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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