Douglas Stuart wins 2020 Booker Prize; Avni Doshi misses out

Scottish writer Douglas Stuart, whose debut novel ‘Shuggie Bain’ described a boy growing up in Glasgow in the 1980s with a mother battling addiction, has won the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction from a six-member shortlist that included Indian-origin writer Avni Doshi’s ‘Burnt Sugar’.

The awards ceremony was broadcast on BBC with the six authors joining virtually. The event included messages from former US President Barack Obama, the Duchess of Cornwall and former Booker winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo.

Stuart, 44, who won the £50,000 prize after being announced the winner by chair of the judges Margaret Busby, delivered an acceptance speech and received a trophy, a designer-bound edition of his book and a further £2,500 for being shortlisted.

Based on his own childhood, Stuart’s book is described as a searing account of the boy growing up in Thatcher’s Glasgow. He dedicated the book to his own mother, who died of alcoholism when he was 16.

After graduating from the Royal College of Art, he moved to New York to start a career in fashion design, and started writing in his spare time a decade ago. His work has since appeared in LitHub and in The New Yorker, which has published two of his short stories this year. He is currently finishing his second novel, Loch Awe, also set in Glasgow.

Busby, editor, literary critic and former publisher, said: “‘Shuggie Bain is destined to be a classic — a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values. The heart-wrenching story tells of the unconditional love between Agnes Bain — set on a descent into alcoholism by the tough circumstances life has dealt her — and her youngest son”.

“Shuggie struggles with responsibilities beyond his years to save his mother from herself, at the same time as dealing with burgeoning feelings and questions about his own otherness. Gracefully and powerfully written, this is a novel that has impact because of its many emotional registers and its compassionately realised characters”, she added.

Obama said in his message: “I’ve always turned to writing to make sense of our world … 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 2020 shortlist was: The New Wilderness by Diane Cook (Oneworld Publications); This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Faber & Faber); Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House); The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate Books); Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador, Pan Macmillan); Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing).

First awarded in 1969, The Booker Prize is considered one of the leading prizes for literary fiction written in English. The list of former winners features several of the literary giants of the last five decades: from Iris Murdoch to Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro to Hilary Mantel.

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