Presented Sunday at ALA in Anaheim, the inaugural Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction went to Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) and Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz (Norton).
Neither author was on hand to accept the honor in person‚ Massie because of a family emergency and Enright because she lives in Ireland‚ but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the librarians in the packed ballroom, who cheered for the speech read on behalf of Massey by Booklist editor Brad Hooper and the video in which Enright expressed her delight.Nancy Pearl, chair of the committee, hosted the evening, introducing speakers Molly Raphael, ALA President; and Keith Michael Fiels, the organizations executive director. Pearl explained that the event was both a long time in the making‚ years during which adult librarians, she said, longed for an award that would equal the prominence of the Newbery and Caldecott medals for youth works‚ and at the end a whirlwind, as the committe had only three months to read the 40 nominated books. The titles were drawn from last year’s Booklist Editors’ Choice and RUSA CODES Notable Books lists. The other nonfiction titles shortlisted were James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Pantheon) and Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Viking); the other fiction titles on the shortlist were Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! (Knopf) and Russell Banks’s Lost Memory of Skin(Ecco). Brad Hooper explained to the crowd that Catherine the Great almost never came to be. Though he was often urged to write a biography of the woman, who had, history says, 12 lovers, Massie thought there was already enough written about her. Noticing that the other works were either scholarly or “sordid bodice rippers” changed his mind so that the author began for years to live, as he described it, with Catherine by his elbow. His hope for the book, Massie says, is that young women will read it and “see Catherine as a model in some, if not all, regards.”
Anne Enright charmed the audience in her video from Dublin, Ireland in which she explained her many connections to libraries‚ her sister is a librarian, for example, and as a child she went to the library “Every. Single. Week.” The audience’s favorite library story, however, was when she related how her grandmother “was handed Ulysses from under the counter of Phibsboro library.” Enright savored, she said, creating in The Forgotten Waltz a main character that readers could “enjoy not liking.”
A raffle capped the festivities, and a number of Nancy Pearl’s students were among the lucky winners of the six nominated titles. Particularly enthusiastic about her fortune was Andrea Hermanson, an MLIS student at the University of Washington at Seattle, shown at right. In fact, many young librarians were among the crowd that were invited to return for the second Carnegie Medal awards next year in Chicago.