I Love This Story: 30+ Publishers Rejected A Novel That Just Won The Booker Award

In Scotland, the surname “Stuart” has long-time royal connections.  Nine Stuart kings ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1625, and the ninth Stuart king transitioned from king of Scotland to king of both Scotland and England.

If current-day author Douglas Stuart, 44, has royal connections, they weren’t in evidence in his growing-up years in Glasgow, Scotland.

According to an October New York Times story about Stuart, 1980s Glasgow was a city of “economic and social stagnation…after the region’s shipbuilding, mining and steelwork industries collapsed.  Stable, working-class communities became destitute, leading to widespread poverty and addiction.”

From an article entitled “The Slums of 1980s Glasgow Through the Lends of a French Photographer.”

Stuart was “the lonely youngest son of a single, alcoholic mother” and…

“…he felt like an only child, as his older brother and sister were teenagers when he was born and found jobs to escape the chaos at home.  He barely knew his father, who left when Stuart was young.  Stuart often functioned as a caretaker for his mother, who would black out from drinking and sometimes try to harm herself.”

Stuart was also gay, and while he couldn’t have articulated it at the time, he knew he was different.  He was shunned by the boys at school, who attacked him for being too “poofy.”

Stuart’s mother died when he was 16 and he ended up in a boarding house.  He became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, decided to study textiles, earned a bachelor’s degree from the Scottish College of Textiles and a master’s from the Royal College of Art in London.

More than ten years ago, when Stuart was working as senior director of design at Banana Republic, he began writing.

What he wrote would become the novel Shuggie Bain, a fictional account of his childhood.

The novel would be rejected by more than 30 publishers.

It finally found a home at Grove Atlantic, an American independent publisher based in New York, where Stuart had moved years earlier.

And on November 19, Shuggie Bain won the Booker Award, “one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world,” according to this article in The New York Times:

The Booker website says this award is:

“The leading literary award in the English-speaking world, which has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over 50 years.  Awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.”

Douglas Stuart may not have royal connections, but he’s being treated like royalty now.

Stuart’s story resonates with me because of the rejection he endured – not once, or twice, or 10 or 20 times, but by 32 publishers.  Everyone who endeavors in a creative field, whether it’s writing or acting or singing or painting or myriad others, faces rejection. 

And every time, it hurts.

People who don’t understand will say, “But it’s not personal.”

They’re wrong.  It’s very personal.

An artistic effort comes from the deepest part of you, and when that effort is rejected, so are you.

So I’m rubbing my mental hands together in glee about Stuar’ts success, and reveling in how stupid those 32 publishers must feel. 

Now:  After all this, it may sound contrary that I won’t read Shuggie Bain, despite all the accolades.

I don’t care to read a story about growing up with an alcoholic parent, because I lived that story.

But I love this story:  of a child who preserved; of a man who took the wreckage of his childhood, wrote about it, persevered more, and turned his artistic endeavor into this:

And this…

And this…

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