Gay author wins the Booker Prize for ’emotive’ debut novel about growing up queer in 1980s Glasgow

Patrick Kelleher November 20, 2020
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Douglas Stuart Shuggie Bain Booker Prize

Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize 2020 (Photo courtesy of the Booker Prize)

Gay author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize for his autobiographical debut novel Shuggie Bain, which tells the story of a queer youth living with his alcoholic mother in 1980s Glasgow.

Stuart was announced as the winner of the highly prestigious prize on Thursday night (19 November) at an unusual ceremony, taking place over Zoom, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The author, who lives in New York with his husband, said he was “absolutely stunned” that he had won, and thanked his late mother, saying she was “on every page” of Shuggie Bain.

“I’ve been clear without her I wouldn’t be here, my work wouldn’t be here,” he said, according to The Guardian.

Gay author Douglas Stuart won the Booker Prize for his ’emotive, nuanced’ debut novel Shuggie Bain.

Douglas Stuart went on to thank “the people of Scotland, especially Glaswegians, whose empathy and humour and love and struggle are in every word of this book”.

The 44-year-old said the £50,000 prize would allow him to become a full time writer, and joked that he would lose most of his winnings settling a bet with his husband that he would not win the Booker Prize.

The novel was praised by Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s Booker Prize judges, who said it was “destined to be a classic”.

“It is such an amazingly emotive, nuanced book that is hard to forget. It’s intimate, it’s challenging, it’s compassionate,” she added.

Booker Prize literary director Gaby Wood said the judges’ decision was “unanimous and quick”, adding: “The shortlist is full of some wonderful writers but in the end we all came together behind Shuggie Bain.”

Stuart was shortlisted for the prize alongside Diane Cook, Avni Doshi, Brandon Taylor, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Maaza Mengiste. Those authors were selected from a longest of 162 novels.

The author grew up in Glasgow when there was ‘a real stigma’ to being gay.

The Scottish-American moved to New York at the age of 24 after gaining a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London.

In the United States, he pursued a career in fashion design and has worked for brands such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic and Jake Spade. He holds dual British and American citizenship.

Speaking to the New Yorker in January, Stuart said there was “a real stigma” to being gay in the housing scheme where he grew up in Glasgow.

“It was a hard working-man’s world, and it was unimaginable for anyone to consider themselves out and proud,” he said.

On growing up gay, he said: “When I was 17, I had all these puzzle pieces and no way of fitting them all together. It was the same for young straight kids, but at least they had parents to (hopefully) guide them and peer groups to support them.

“Being gay and coming of age at that time meant everything was about filling in the blanks. The little that I knew about gay sex felt collaged from random sources. I gleaned tidbits from here and there, and the gaps could be terrifying, but they could also be hilarious.

“You sort of had to go it alone – armed only with a Jean Genet novel and a couple of pages torn from your mother’s underwear catalogue – and fumble towards enlightenment.”



More: booker prize, Douglas Stuart, Gay, Glasgow, Scotland

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