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Douglas Stuart awarded 2020 Booker Prize for 'Shuggie Bain'

20 November 2020 - 11:48 By Mila de Villiers

Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart was announced as the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize for his autobiographical novel Shuggie Bain on November 19 in a virtual BBC ceremony broadcast from north London. 

First awarded in 1969, the Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for high-quality literary fiction written in English, with past recipients including Anna Burns (Milkman, 2018), George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo, 2017), and Paul Beatty (The Sellout, 2016).

Set in 1980s Glasgow, Shuggie Bain follows the eponymous Shuggie, a young, impoverished boy and the lives of the downtrodden who surround him, coming to terms with his sexuality in an unforgiving environment. 

Yet, as Sue de Groot notes in her Sunday Times review of Stuart's acclaimed debut novel: "Not that it is all gloom, mind. The feisty Glaswegians, even in the most bitter of circumstances, can be very funny. Young Shuggie, for instance, when he hears his elder sister discussing her imminent move to SA with her new husband, "listened to the adults fight about something he thought was called Joanna's Bird that lived in the south of Africa" ...  Everything in the novel - particularly the resilience and kindliness of a sweet boy with all conceivable odds stacked against him - tells us that no matter how 'normal' it might be in anyone's world to be destitute, addicted, lonely, hungry, hated, afraid, unhappy and beaten, still there is hope that a different normality exists, and can be attained."

Last year's announcement of dual winners Margaret Atwood (The Testaments) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other) caused an outcry on account of the prize being shared by two authors - a first in Booker history. 

As Margaret Busby, publisher and chair of this year's judging panel, was quoted in The Guardian: "The shortlist is full of some wonderful writers but in the end we all came together behind Shuggie Bain. I thought of breaking the rules and saying let’s have six winners this year but …”

Let's see what next year holds ...