GLASGOW-born author Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize. Stuart, who now lives in the United States, picked up the award, worth £50,000, last night for his novel Shuggie Bain.

He is only the second Scottish author to pick up the award, following James Kelman who was a controversial winner in 1994 with his novel How Late It Was, How Late.

Thanking his publishers, his husband and the people of Glasgow in his acceptance speech last night, Stuart said: “I know I’m only the second Scottish book in fifty years to have won, and that means I think a lot for regional voices, for working class stories.

“I’d like to thank the people of Scotland, especially the Glaswegians whose humour, love and struggle are in every word.”

He also paid tribute to his late mother who “was on every page” of the book.

Stuart’s novel, which was more than a decade in the writing, is a fierce yet tender account of poverty, addiction and queerness in 1980s Glasgow. The author’s own life contained all of these elements. As he told The Herald Magazine in August, “Shuggie is definitely a work of fiction, although I am the queer son of a single mother who lost her battle to addiction.”

The novel is the story of a young boy, Shuggie, and his alcoholic mother Agnes. From the outside it could be dismissed as poverty porn, but it’s a book that, while not hiding from any of the painful reality of their difficult lives, is full of love, compassion and an understanding that comes from lived experience.

“He shows us lots of monstrous behaviour, but not a single monster — only damage,” Leah Hager Cohen wrote when reviewing the book in the New York Times. “If he has a sharp eye for brokenness, he is even keener on the inextinguishable flicker of love that remains.”

HeraldScotland:

“To see a Scottish voice embraced in this way especially in America — and a book that is written in very broad Glaswegian dialect — has been phenomenal,” Stuart has said. “It has just been so encouraging and I feel really proud of that.”

Stuart, who was born in Sighthill and grew up in the east end of Glasgow, was raised on benefits. “Working class is a stretch,” he told The Herald Magazine, “because I never knew my single mother to work.” He was bullied every day, he says, from the age of seven to the age of 14 because he was considered different. He was also the victim of homophobic violence.

Meanwhile at home he was living with a mother who was living with an addiction. “Alcohol was always a factor in my childhood and even if my mother was in a period of sobriety there was always an unpredictability to how long that would last and when it would lapse. And so, it was always the mountain you could see, whether you were on the mountain or just beyond it.”

Stuart was 16 when his mother died. But after her death he committed himself to his education while fending for himself. “I had to work four nights a week in Texas Homebase, and all-day Saturday and all-day Sunday, just to get through high school.”

He left Glasgow at the age of 18 to study textiles in Galashiels. Stuart then went to the Royal College of Art in London where his degree show earned him a job with Calvin Klein in New York.

He has worked in fashion for the last two decades, but with Shuggie Bain he has fulfilled a lifetime’s dream to be a writer.

He is now a writer full-time. As well as the novel he has also written short stories for the New Yorker.

Read More: Douglas Stuart - The Herald Magazine interview

In August he told the Herald Magazine about his plans for a second book. “I am writing essentially a love story between two Glaswegian boys who are separated along sectarian lines that I’m putting the final touches on now. It’s about toxic masculinity and what we expect young men to be and the narrow ways we expect them to be in the world.”

Stuart’s victory marks a rare success for Scottish authors in the Booker Prize. Although a number of Scots including Muriel Spark, George Mackay Brown, Ali Smith and Andrew O’Hagan, have been shortlisted since the award began in 1969, only James Kelman has gone on to win it. Kelman’s victory was controversial at the time, partly in response to the author’s use of Glasgow idiom including widespread use of profanities. One of the Booker judges, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, called the decision “a disgrace”. 

In response, Kelman argued “my culture and my language have the right to exist, and no one has the authority to dismiss that right.”

Stuart’s book, however, has already received widespread praise. It was even chosen by Nicola Sturgeon as one of her books of the year.

Booker Prize 2020 shortlist

The other nominated novels were:

  • Diane Cook - The New Wilderness
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga - This Mournable Body
  • Avni Doshi - Burnt Sugar
  • Maaza Mengiste -The Shadow King
  • Brandon Taylor - Real Life