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Scottish author Douglas Stuart wins 2020 Booker Prize for his debut novel, ‘Shuggie Bain’

A portrait of Douglas Stuart, Scottish American author of "Shuggie Bain."
Douglas Stuart, the new Booker Prize winner for his novel, “Shuggie Bain.”
(Clive Smith/ Booker Prize )

Douglas Stuart was awarded the 2020 Booker Prize for his debut novel “Shuggie Bain” on Thursday.

“Shuggie Bain,” published in February, follows the life of Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, a kind, lonely boy growing up in public housing in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s. It’s a story about love, queer sexuality and a mother struggling with alcohol addiction. The story is based on Stuart’s childhood experiences in the Scottish city where the book is set.

Stuart dedicated the novel to his late mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.

“My mother is in every page of this book, and without her I wouldn’t be here and my work wouldn’t be here,” Stuart said during an emotional acceptance speech.

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"Shuggie Bain" by Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize.
“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize.
(Booker Prize )

Asked what it meant to write down the semi-autobiographical story of Hugh, Stuart said: “For 30 years I’ve carried an awful 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.”

Even though “Shuggie Bain” is a work of fiction, he said, writing it was “incredibly healing” for him.

“I think men from the West Coast of Scotland are not ever expected to be able to express their feelings, or their finer feelings, and so art is a great receptacle for that. And to be able to connect with people, and to ask for empathy from readers, and to really be given that has been hugely cathartic.”

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Stuart, who attended London’s Royal College of Art before moving to New York to pursue a career in fashion design, said he just completed his second book.

“Shuggie Bain” is the second Scottish book to win the prestigious prize, the highest literary honor in Britain, since it was established in 1969.

Actor Paapa Essiedu read from finalist Brandon Taylor's "Real Life" at the virtual 2020 Booker Prize ceremony.
(The Booker Foundation)

The Booker Prize’s shortened video ceremony followed another big night in the literary world, the National Book Awards, held Wednesday night, which was entirely virtual. In contrast, the U.K. 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 winner Bernardine Evaristo; judges chair Margaret Busby and the four-piece Chineke! Chamber Ensemble.

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Actors Anne-Marie Duff, Ayesha Dharker, Nina Sosanya, Paapa Essiedu, Stewart Campbell and Thandie Newton read excerpts from the finalists’ novels from a different venue, London’s Old Vic theater.

The ceremony was broadcast live on Radio 4 and BBC iPlayer.

A masked camera operator with Thandie Newton, who read from finalist Tsitsi Dangarembga's "The Mournable Body."
(The Booker Prize Foundation)
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Special guests included novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, winner 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 nearly 890,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada on its first day.

“I’ve always turned to writing to make sense of our world,” said Obama, “both as a young man trying to navigate different parts of my life and as an elected official trying to bridge our divides and find a way for all of us to move forward. And at their best, Booker Prize-listed books remind me of fiction’s power to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understand their struggles, and imagine new ways to tackle complex problems and effect change.”

The Booker Prize is the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary award, open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality.

Margaret Atwood and Evaristoshared last year’s prize for their novels “The Testaments” and “Girl, Woman, Other,” respectively.

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Previous winners include William Golding, Iris Murdoch, Salman Rushdie and Hilary Mantel.

“A Promised Land,” out Tuesday in a worldwide release, eloquently and ruefully documents the first two and a half years of Obama’s presidency.

Below is the complete 2020 Booker Prize shortlist:

  • Diane Cook - “The New Wilderness”
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga - “This Mournable Body”
  • Avni Doshi - “Burnt Sugar”
  • Maaza Mengiste - “The Shadow King”
  • Douglas Stuart - “Shuggie Bain”
  • Brandon Taylor - “Real Life”
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The all-virtual 2020 National Book Awards ceremony awarded Charles Yu for fiction, Les and Tamara Payne for nonfiction, Don Mee Choi for poetry and others.


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