Scottish author Douglas Stuart was awarded the Booker Prize 2020 on Thursday for his acclaimed debut novel “Shuggie Bain”, set in his hometown of Glasgow.
“I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so this fulfills a dream,” says Stuart, whose novel about a working-class family in the 1980s was inspired by his own childhood.
“This has changed my whole life,” he said in his acceptance speech.
Like the other finalists, the 44-year-old author, who now lives in New York, watched the socially distant video video ceremony due to the antivirus lock-in in place in the UK.
Stuart’s book reflects his own experiences of growing up with a mother who was an alcoholic and died of her addiction.
He described the book as a “love story” that looks at the kind of “unconditional, often tested love” that children can have for deficient parents.
In an emotional speech, the 44-year-old said: “My mother would be happy, she would be completely happy and I think she would be proud.”
He said he had “a lot of love and pain” and writing the book was “incredibly healing for me.”
He also praised his hometown, saying “I grew up in Glasgow I think is one of the greatest inspirations of my life.”
Stuart was one of four debut novelists among the six finalists for one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.
Prior to the announcement, British bookmakers had backed Stuart to claim the prize for the best work of English-language fiction published in Britain and Ireland.
He was chosen as the winner of the most versatile shortlist in the award’s five-decade history at a ceremony with contributions from former US President Barack Obama and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Booker has started careers and encouraged controversy since its inception in 1969.
The winner will receive £ 50,000 (€ 66,000, € 56,000) in prize money and great international attention.
Last year, a judge tore up the rulebook by awarding it jointly to Canadian author Margaret Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo.
Evaristo said at Thursday’s ceremony that winning the award was a “magical moment” and “I feel like I was launched into the world as a writer.”
Past winners have included famous writers from Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes to Kazuo Ishiguro and Roddy Doyle.
Paul Beatty became the first American winner when Booker bowed to the press and began including writers outside the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe in 2013.
“Welcome the new”
This year’s finalists also included American Avni Doshi’s first novel “Burnt Sugar” along with other American debutants Diane Cook (“The New Wilderness”) and Brandon Taylor (“Real Life”).
Zimbabwe’s author Tsitsi Dangarembga (“This Sad Body”) and Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste (“Shadow King”) were the only established authors on the list.
The list was put down by a panel of five judges from a US-dominated long list of 13 finalists, which included veteran Hilary Mantel.
Margaret Busby, chair of the five judges in 2020, said before announcing the award that “discovering great literature depends on unleashing the imagination, being open to welcoming the new.”
“I do not think I am breaking the rules to say this: read all the books on the shortlist,” she added.
Dangarembga’s last volume in her trilogy, which began with “nervous conditions”, tells the story of a young girl from Zimbabwe who falls into poverty.
Mengiste, the first Ethiopian author to take Booker’s shortlist, tells the story of the uprising against the Italian invasion of the 1930s.
Doshi’s ‘Burnt Sugar’ explores the complex relationship between an aging mother and her daughter in contemporary India, while Cook’s ‘The New Wilderness’ is a dystopian fiction set in a world made inhospitable by the climate crisis.
Taylor’s “Real Life” debut follows an introverted man’s experience of racism when he arrives at an American university.