Carnegie Medal Winners Announced at ALA Midwinter

Held Sunday, January 10, at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference, the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) Book & Media Awards Ceremony & scallyReception had a new dimension this year. For the first time since the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were established in 2012, the winners were announced at the ceremony, rather than at ALA Annual. The 2016 winners include Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (Grove), a visceral debut novel about a double agent in South Vietnam posted to America after Saigon’s fall (also an LJ Best Book), and Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Little, Brown), the sometimes controversial photographer’s incisive reflections on her family history.

Sponsored jointly by ALA’s Booklist and and  the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) and by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote knowledge and understanding, the Carnegie Medals are the first single-book awards for adult books given by the ALA. As ALA Executive Director Keith Fiels pointed out, changing the Carnegie Medal schedule means that all RUSA-sponsored awards will now be announced at the same time.

Fiels noted that shifting release of the shortlist to the fall has the added benefit of sparking interest by securing simultaneous coverage with the major awards announced then, including the National Book Awards and the Nobel Prize. In addition, said Booklist’s Donna Seaman, standing in as awards presenter for Selection Committee Chair Nancy Pearl, announcing the winners in January will align them more closely with other major spring award winners, including National Book Critics Circle Award honorees. Instead of coming at the very end of the spring awards season, the Carnegie Medals will now serve as a first look and warm-up.

The two winners, chosen from a six-title shortlist announced in October and culled from an extended longlist of 44 titles, will both be present to receive their medals—and checks for $5,000 each—at a celebratory ceremony on Saturday, June 25, at the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, FL. Finalists, including Jim Shephard (The Book of Aron, Knopf) and Hanya Yanagihara (The Little Life, Doubleday) in fiction and Helen Macdonald (H Is for Hawk, Grove) and Andrea Wulf (The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, Knopf) in nonfiction will receive $1,500.

More good reading

Other key awards announced at the ceremony include the Notable Books List and the Reading List, always anticipated by librarians as guides to good reading. Established in 1944 to celebrate quality books that are both engaging and important, the Notables Books List this year included both Carnegie Medal fiction finalists; three story collections, including Adam Johnson’s National Book Award winner, Fortune Smiles (Random); Mia Alvar’s especially accomplished debut, In the Country (Knopf); and Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth: Crown), his follow-up to his celebrated debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. There were some nice surprises, too, like Alex Shearer’s affecting paperback original, This Is the Life (Washington Square: S. & S.), and Kim Leine’s The Prophets of the Eternal Fjord (Liveright: Norton), epic historical fiction translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken.

Nonfiction Notables embrace heavy hitters like Ta-Nehisi Coates’s National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau) and Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania (Crown), both LJ Best Books, as well as the durable David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers (S. & S.). Judging by the appreciative murmurs, audience members were especially pleased by the inclusion of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus (Atria) and Patti Smith’s M Train (Knopf).

Finally, the two poetry Notables, Reginald Dwayne Betts’s Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way) and Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton), showcase how effectively contemporary poetry can give voice to diverse or marginalized populaces. Betts’s collection, also an LJ Best Book, speaks directly to the violence enfolded in the lives of African Americans, particularly African American men, while Harjo’s use of various musical forms heightens her chronicle of the Native American experience and particularly the Trail of Tears.

Established in 2007 by RUSA’s Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) and issued annually by the readers’ advisory experts comprising the Reading List Council, the Reading List offers star titles in eight genres: adrenaline, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction, and women’s fiction. This year’s list ranges from mega-best-selling author Karin Slaughter’s adrenaline winner, Pretty Girls (Morrow), to first-timer Patricia Park’s Re: Jane, women’s fiction about a young Korean American escaping her suffocating family. Not surprisingly, several LibraryReads picks landed on this list, including Naomi Novik’s fantastical Uprooted (Del Rey), Lissa Evans’s World War II–set Crooked Heart (Harper), and Pierce Brown’s Golden Son (Del Rey), which continues the tale of postapocalyptic class clash begun in Red Rising.

Other book award winners announced at the ceremony include the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law, given the Dartmouth Medal for excellence in reference publishing, and ten titles named by CODES as Outstanding Reference Sources. These titles range widely from Bernard A. Drew’s Black Stereotypes in Popular Series Fiction, 1851–1955 (McFarland) to Worldmark Global Business and Economy Issues, edited by Miranda Herbert Ferrara (Gale). Shepard’s The Book of Aron added the Sophie Brody Medal for excellence in Jewish literature to cache of honors, making it the most-cited book at the event. For a full list of RUSA award winners and honorable-mention titles, see ala.org/rusa.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.