The Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize 2020 for his first novel, Shuggie Bain, The Guardian reported.
Shuggie Bain is a story based on Stuart’s own life that follows a boy growing up in poverty in 1980s Glasgow with a mother who is battling addiction. Stuart, 44, has described himself as “a working-class kid who had a different career and came to writing late”.
He is the second Scot to win the £50,000 award after James Kelman took the prize in 1994 with How Late It Was, How Late, a book Stuart said “changed his life” because it was the first time he saw “my people, my dialect, on the page”.
Shuggie Bain follows Shuggie as he attempts to care for his alcoholic mother, Agnes, whose descent into alcoholism coincides with her youngest son’s growing awareness of his sexuality. The novel is dedicated to Stuart’s mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.
Upon learning he had won, Stuart tearfully described himself as “absolutely stunned” and thanked his mother, who is “on every page of this book – I’ve been clear without her I wouldn’t be here, my work wouldn’t be here”.
He also thanked “the people of Scotland, especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humor and love and struggle are in every word of this book”.
Stuart, who has already written his second novel, titled Loch Awe, pointed to Kelman’s Booker winner behind him on his shelves.
“When James won in the mid-90s, Scottish voices were seen as disruptive and outside the norm. And now to see Shuggie at the center of it, I can’t express it,” he said. “Young boys like me growing up in 80s Glasgow, this wasn’t ever anything I would have dreamed of.”
He said he would now become a full-time writer, and joked that his winnings would be spent on settling his bet with his husband that he wouldn’t win. More seriously, he said he might use the money to return to Glasgow.
Margaret Busby, a publisher and the chair of this year’s Booker judges, said the work was “destined to be a classic”, describing it as “a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values”.
“It is such an amazingly emotive, nuanced book that is hard to forget. It’s intimate, it’s challenging, it’s compassionate,” she said, describing Shuggie as “an unforgettable character”.
“This is dealing with tough subject matter, with characters who are not having an easy time,” said Busby, who was joined on the judging panel by the writers Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissayand Emily Wilson.
“It’s not a story where everybody lives happily ever after … but this is a hopeful read in a different sort of way … anybody who reads it will never feel the same.”
Shuggie Bain was rejected by 30 editors before it was picked up by publishers Grove Atlantic in the US and Picador in the UK. Stuart, who was born and raised in Glasgow, moved to New York at 24 to work in fashion design after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London.
He has said writing about Glasgow from the US “brought clarity, but it also allowed me to fall in love with the city again”, describing it as “a city of reluctant optimists by default”.
“How would we have survived otherwise?” he asked. “When you don’t have the comfort of money, then you are forced to deal with life on the frontlines, and sometimes love, humor, optimism is all you can bring to a bad situation.”