Douglas Stuart has won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, becoming the second Scottish and the third American writer to win the prestigious literary award.
The announcement was made Thursday afternoon at a virtual event broadcast from London, featuring special guests Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo (last year’s joint winners of the award), Kazuo Ishiguro, and former President Barack Obama.
A visibly shocked Stuart said, “I’m absolutely stunned. I didn’t expect that at all. I know I’m only the second Scottish book in 50 years to have won, and that means, I think, a lot, for regional voices, for working-class stories.”
Stuart, a citizen of both the United Kingdom and the United States, becomes the third American citizen to have won the Booker, after Paul Beatty for The Sellout and George Saunders for Lincoln in the Bardo. The first Scottish winner of the award was James Kelman, who took home the prize in 1994 for How Late It Was, How Late.
In a statement, Margaret Busby, the chair of the Booker judging panel, 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.…Gracefully and powerfully written, this is a novel that has impact because of its many emotional registers and its compassionately realised characters.”
Stuart beat out five other finalists for the award: Brandon Taylor for Real Life, Diane Cook for The New Wilderness, Avni Doshi for Burnt Sugar, Tsitsi Dangarembga for This Mournable Body, and Maaza Mengiste for The Shadow King.
Shortly before the announcement, Obama addressed the ceremony remotely, saying, “I am always impressed by authors who can write incredible works of fiction, even if that’s what my critics call my speeches. Reading beautiful works of fiction late at night from Booker Prize–listed authors like Marilynne Robinson, Colson Whitehead, Bernardine Evaristo, and so many others offered me a brief respite from the daily challenges of the presidency. And at their best, Booker Prize–listed books remind me of fiction’s power to help us put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understand their struggles, and imagine new ways to tackle complex problems and effect change.”
The Booker Prize was established in 1969 and was originally open only to writers from the British Commonwealth, Ireland, and Zimbabwe. In 2014, English-language authors from anywhere in the world became eligible for the prize.
Last year’s prize went to two authors: Atwood for The Testaments and Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Past winners have included Iris Murdoch for The Sea, the Sea, Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children, and Arundhati Roy for The God of Small Things.
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.