Booker Prize 2020: Douglas Stuart Wins for ‘Shuggie Bain’

The novel, which has drawn comparisons to D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Frank McCourt, has been a favorite contender for this year’s top literary prizes. In addition to being a Booker finalist, Stuart was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize and the National Book Award for fiction, which on Wednesday went to Charles Yu for “Interior Chinatown.”

Stuart, 44, who has dual Scottish and American citizenship, lives in the East Village with his husband, Michael Cary, a curator at Gagosian who specializes in Picasso. Stuart came to writing somewhat late in life, and worked in the fashion industry for nearly 20 years, as a designer for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic and Jack Spade. He started writing “Shuggie Bain” more than a decade ago, when he was working 12-hour days as a senior director of design at Banana Republic.

Stuart was one of four debut novelists on this year’s shortlist. The others were Brandon Taylor for “Real Life,” which follows a Black gay graduate student navigating white campus culture; Diane Cook for her dystopian novel “The New Wilderness,” about a mother and daughter who a polluted city for the last swath of wilderness; and Avni Doshi for “Burnt Sugar,” about an artist in Pune, India, whose mother abandoned her to join an ashram.

The two established authors on the shortlist were Maaza Mengiste, for her novel “The Shadow King,” set during Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, and Tsitsi Dangarembga for “This Mournable Body,” which centers on a middle-aged woman struggling with life in Harare.

Last year, the Booker judges made the surprising decision to flout their own rules and award the prize jointly to Margaret Atwood, for “The Testaments,” a sequel to her 1985 dystopian classic, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Bernardine Evaristo, for her novel “Girl, Woman, Other.” She became the first Black woman to win the Booker Prize.

This year, the judges were able to come to a unanimous consensus. They included the thriller writer Lee Child, the poet Lemn Sissay, the classicist and translator Emily Wilson, and the British author and critic Sameer Rahim.

This year’s ceremony, held online because of the pandemic, included a star-studded lineup of guest speakers. Former President Barack Obama — whose memoir came out this week, prompting the Booker to reschedule its ceremony — spoke about some of his favorite Booker-winning novels, and the solace he takes in reading fiction. The Duchess of Cornwall described how people can forge a sense of connection by reading during the pandemic. Previous winners, including Kazuo Ishiguro, Atwood and Evaristo, also spoke.

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