On my radar: Douglas Stuart's cultural highlights

The Booker-prize winning author of Shuggie Bain on his love of Sophia Loren, Kylie’s classic hits and the haunting photography of Raymond Depardon

Born in Glasgow in 1976, author Douglas Stuart studied at the Royal College of Art in London before moving to New York to work in design. In 2020, he published his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, which was described in the Observer as a “novel of rare and lasting beauty” and went on to win the Booker prize. Stuart’s short stories and essays have appeared in the New Yorker and on literary website Lit Hub, and he is currently working on his second novel, to be published by Picador next spring. Shuggie Bain is released in paperback on 15 April.

1. Film

Marriage Italian Style (dir Vittorio De Sica, 1964)

Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style: ‘incredibly heartfelt.’
Sophia Loren in Marriage Italian Style: ‘incredibly heartfelt.’ Photograph: Allstar

I’m working my way through all of Sophia Loren’s back catalogue and it’s a huge pleasure. I especially love this portrayal of a woman who’s fighting against her circumstances. It’s about Filumena, who is a waif and a prostitute who falls in love with a Milanese businessman during the second world war. But the man takes her love and he wastes her youth and he won’t make her legitimate through marriage or through declaring their love. Although it’s a very comic movie at times, it’s incredibly heartfelt. It’s a really powerful look at how women are used by men and how people can be trapped by poverty.

2. Art

Salman Toor: How Will I Know at the Whitney Museum, New York

Bar Boy by Salman Toor.
Bar Boy by Salman Toor. Photograph: Courtesty of the Whitney and the artist

The Whitney has timed admission at the moment, so I jumped at the chance to go see this. Salman Toor paints very sensitive figurative portraits: beautiful, almost melancholy glimpses of the imagined lives of young men in apartments in New York. There are scenes where they dance together, where they embrace or where they just stare at their phones, but there’s a vulnerability and a tenderness to the paintings that I think is quite rare; the colour alone is otherworldly. It also turns on its head the idea of these big group Renaissance paintings, reimagining them as queer intimate scenes and I love that.

3. Album

The Blue Nile: Hats

The Blue Nile: evoking Glasgow in the 80s.
The Blue Nile: evoking Glasgow in the 80s. Photograph: Kerstin Rodgers/Redferns

The Blue Nile were big in the 1980s and the reason I chose this is that I’m currently writing the screenplay for the television series of Shuggie Bain and in order to do that I keep trying to bring myself back to 1980s Glasgow. This album really does that for me. It’s so evocative and it transports me straight back to the city at that time, especially The Downtown Lights, which is this heartbreaking song about the end of a relationship. So I play that when I need to get into the mood for writing.

Abundance - Jakob Guanzon

4. Fiction

Abundance by Jakob Guanzon

I think this is still looking for a British publisher, but it’s phenomenal. Guanzon is an incredibly exciting new voice, writing about characters living in the margins. It’s about a father called Henry and his son, Junior, and after they are evicted from their home they are living in their truck. It’s a compassionate, empathetic look at these characters’ lives and how they navigate the last pocketful of dollars and make it through to tomorrow. It does one of the things I love about fiction, where it really allows you to walk in a character’s shoes – books like this don’t come around too often.

5. Photography

Raymond Depardon: Glasgow

From the book Glasgow by Raymond Depardon.
From the book Glasgow by Raymond Depardon. Photograph: Raymond Depardon/Magnum

This was commissioned by the Sunday Times in the 1980s, but never published because they thought it was too bleak. It came back to life a few years ago and was turned into a book, which was never far when I was writing Shuggie Bain. They’re photographs of people going about their lives in Glasgow and they’re incredibly haunting. There are really evocative photographs of children among a city of torn-down tenements. It’s a great document of a city that is in crisis and is being reborn and you can still see the unsinkable character and spirit of Glaswegians.

6. Livestream

Kylie: Infinite Disco

Kylie Minogue celebrating Disco reaching No 1.
Kylie Minogue celebrating Disco reaching No 1. Photograph: OfficialCharts.com/Shutterstock

No one can go to a gig at the moment, but I love to listen to live music here in New York. I really enjoyed Kylie Minogue’s one-off concert in support of her new album: it was an incredibly innovative hour of infectious music and just the tonic I needed. My favourite song was Love at First Sight – it’s always the classics, isn’t it? And the thing about virtual gigs is you can dance around your kitchen and people can’t see how bad a dancer you are. It was one of those things that brought me a huge amount of joy.


Kathryn Bromwich

The GuardianTramp

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