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Author Talks: Douglas Stuart

I recently attended an event celebrating the release of Douglas Stuart’s new novel, Young Mungo. The release was hyped up by a dear friend who introduced me to his work, and I came to realize that Stuart was receiving attention at large.

First, Jeremy Denk included Stuart’s debut novel, Shuggie Bain in his reading list , next NPR reviewed the new book on Fresh Air . (Other press includes: The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times & The Wall Street Journal.) It could be case of Baader-Meinhof syndrome or the blessing of having a friend with a close connection to the author’s first book.

I expected the event to be intimate, but the cue to enter the venue extended down the sidewalk and around the corner of the building. Standing in line with hundreds of people in anticipation of Stuart’s talk was an exciting and complimentary experience to the solitary activity of reading. Author talks of this size are returning to bookstore schedules in lieu of the provisional Zoom talks of late. There is nothing quite like sharing physical space with other curious readers, catching snippets of their conversations with friends or observing their in-line reading. These colorful details of a book gathering are sterilized by the Zoom camera frame and “raise your hand” function. It’s good to be back.  

The talk was moderated by Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko. The conversation was loosely structured by prepared questions and focused on the characters of Young Mungo. Stuart spoke passionately about their dimensions and complexities, as if they were his own children. Since he grew up queer in Glasgow, his stories articulate the challenges of belonging and coming of age in an industrial society projecting toxic masculinist ideals. He explained that the literary canon could not fully embody his identity, and this work fills a void for his personal expression and the oeuvre at large. Stuart related the characters’ struggles to the present issues with the Florida Bill and its historical correlate, Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28. The dialogue’s imaginative fluidity between past and present, fiction and reality, was continually engaging throughout the 45-minute session.  

After a bit of discussion about his writing process (largely writing on long plane trips – “mini writers’ retreats with tiny bottles of gin”), the event moved into a question-and-answer portion. Audience members generally continued to ask Stuart about his process and concept while creating the world of Young Mungo. When asked about his straightforward writing style, he explained that he did not want to write a sentence that his characters couldn’t understand themselves. This search for the right pitch for his writing also carries over to his goal of describing beautiful things violently and violent things beautifully. In closing, Stuart read a section of the book that exemplified another recurring theme of the conversation – tenderness. Although the book is a thriller, he chose to narrate a moment of warmth, arguing that at its’ heart, the book is a romance. 

Here are some upcoming events in the area: