Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his first novel, Shuggie Bain, a story based on his own life that follows a boy growing up in poverty in 1980s Glasgow with a mother struggling with addiction.
Stuart, 44, has described himself as “a working-class kid who had a different career and was late to write.” He is the second Scotsman to win the £ 50,000 prize after James Kelman took home the prize in 1994 with How Late It Was, How Late, a book that 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 tries 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 years old.
Upon learning that he had won, Stuart tearfully described himself as “absolutely stunned” and thanked his mother, who is “on every page of this book. I have been clear without her that I would not be here, my work would not be. here”.
He also thanked “the people of Scotland, especially the people of Glasgow, whose empathy, humor, love and struggle are in every word of this book.”
Stuart, who has already written his second novel, titled Loch Awe, pointed out Kelman’s Booker winner behind him on his shelves. “When James won in the mid-90s, Scottish voices were considered disruptive and out of the ordinary. And now that I see Shuggie in the center, I can’t express it, ”he said. “Young guys like me who grew up in Glasgow in the 80s, this was never something I would have dreamed of.” She said that she would now become a full-time writer and joked that her winnings would be spent on settling the bet with her husband that she would not win. More seriously, he said he could use the money to get back to Glasgow.
Margaret Busby, editor and chair of this year’s Booker judges, said the work was “destined to be a classic” and described it as “a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people. and its values. ”.
“It is such an incredibly emotional and nuanced book that it is hard to forget. He’s intimate, challenging, compassionate, “she said, describing Shuggie as” an unforgettable character. “
“It’s a tough subject, with characters not having a good time,” said Busby, who was joined on the judging panel by writers Lee Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay. and Emily Wilson. “It’s not a story where everyone lives happily ever after … but this is hopeful reading in a different way … anyone who reads it will never feel the same.”
Shuggie Bain was rejected by 30 publishers before he was picked up by publishers Grove Atlantic in the United States and Picador in the United Kingdom. Born and raised in Glasgow, Stuart moved to New York at age 24 to work in fashion design after graduating from the Royal College of Art in London.
He has said that writing about Glasgow from America “brought clarity, but 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?” I ask. “When you don’t have the comfort of money, you are forced to deal with life up front, and sometimes love, humor and optimism are all you can bring to a bad situation.”
Stuart was one of four debuts among the six shortlisted novelists for this year’s Booker Award, reduced from 162 novels. The final six contenders made up the most diverse lineup in the award’s history, with Stuart defeating American writers Diane Cook, Avni Doshi and Brandon Taylor, acclaimed Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga and Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste.
After last year’s judges sparked controversy by disobeying the rules for choosing two winners, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo, this year’s judges’ meeting was “unanimous and swift,” said Booker literary director Gaby Wood. He added that “guidelines” had been added to the award so that if the judges were divided again, the majority vote would be honored.
“There were no tantrums, that’s for sure,” Busby said, revealing that the final meeting lasted about an hour. “But it’s not easy to make a decision when you start with 162 titles and you have to finish with one. The short list is full of some wonderful writers, but in the end we all rallied behind Shuggie Bain. I thought about breaking the rules and saying we have six winners this year, but … “
Typically announced at a formal dinner at London’s Guildhall, this year’s award was announced on a BBC broadcast from Roundhouse, with shortlisted authors coming together from their homes around the world.
The ceremony was moved forward two days, apparently to avoid a confrontation with the memoirs of former US President Barack Obama, A Promised Land; last week, it was announced that Obama would participate in the Booker ceremony. In a prerecorded message, Obama offered “my congratulations and admiration” to the nominated authors, citing Marilynne Robinson, Colson Whitehead and Bernardine Evaristo as previous Booker-nominated authors who had offered him “a brief respite from the daily challenges of the presidency.” .
The Booker has come under fire for having opened entries to any author who wrote in English in 2014, and the British literary scene fears that the rule change will lead to American dominance. This year, apart from Dangarembga, all of the shortlisted writers were from the United States or had joint United States citizenship.
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