Douglas Stuart on Masculinity and the Long Literary Tradition of the Gang Novel
In Conversation with Mitzi Rapkin on the First Draft Podcast
First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.
In this episode, Mitzi talks to Douglas Stuart about his latest novel, Young Mungo.
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From the episode:
Mitzi Rapkin: A word that struck me with this book is masculinity. What did it mean to be masculine in Young Mungo? I was thinking about the pressures that Mungo felt, and how you rendered that so beautifully in the book. Were you really conscious of that growing up?
Douglas Stuart: I tried to show quite a broad range of masculinity, both the type that conforms and the type that just cannot ever conform, because it’s not naturally within the character’s nature. Certainly for myself, I was a young man who was terrified of much of the masculinity that was around me and how incredibly narrow it was. And I’ve always felt like I was performing my masculinity in some way. I was both terrible at it and terrified by it. I didn’t have any interest in sports or in heavy drinking, or in fighting or in chasing girls, and when you can’t do those things in a tight-knit community, you fall to the outside. I was always trying to fit in somehow so I wouldn’t be conspicuous amongst my peers, and I was supremely conspicuous because you can ever truly hide who you really are. That’s left an indelible mark on me.
I have tried to write about this spectrum of masculinity. I don’t believe actually in the phrase toxic masculinity, because I don’t think masculinity is toxic. I just think it has lots of different frequencies. And there are some people who have power within masculinity, some people who can use it to make themselves harder, and then there are some people who find ways to be gentle and tender. I’m often known as someone who writes about very hard masculinity, but actually a lot of my characters are incredibly kind and gentle and tender.
I was fascinated by this long literary tradition of the gang novel, if we think about Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock or the novel No Mean City, which is almost a landmark book in Scotland. There’s this literary culture of writing about gangs and razor gangs and territorial gangs. But for me, I never saw a queer male represented in it. And of course we were there, and we were running with them, and we were trying to fit in. But when I was thinking about young Mungo, I thought, how interesting would it be to have this boy that’s in this world and just cannot belong?
Douglas Stuart is a Scottish-American author. His debut novel, Shuggie Bain, won the Booker Prize. His new novel is Young Mungo. His short stories, Found Wanting, and The Englishman, were published in The New Yorker magazine. His essay, Poverty, Anxiety, and Gender in Scottish Working-Class Literature was published by Lit Hub. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he has an MA from the Royal College of Art in London and since 2000 he has lived and worked in New York City.