At a standing room only reception at the American Library Association annual conference in Las Vegas, Donna Tartt and Doris Kearns Goodwin were announced as the winners of the 2014 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.
Tartt won for her book The Goldfinch (for which she also received the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction), while Goodwin won for The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.
The winners beat out an impressive shortlist of contenders including, for nonfiction: On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand Year History by Nicholas A. Basbanes, and Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. And, on the fiction side: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat.
Both Tartt and Goodwin were on hand in Las Vegas to accept their medals and $5,000 prizes, and both gave enthusiastic speeches celebrating their library hosts.
“My love affair with libraries began when I first entered the small public library that stood in the center of my hometown of Rockville Center, N.Y.,” Goodwin told the audience.
She spoke movingly of how library books helped her ailing mother cope with the health issues that would claim her life, when Goodwin was just 15. “One of my most treasured memories as a child was the privilege of walking to the library with her adult library card in my hand, allowed to check out each new pile of new books for her," Goodwin recalled. “To be able to turn left to the adult room, rather than right to the children’s room, made me feel taller, wiser, sleeker. And every night, she would read to me.”
That love of reading took Goodwin all the way to the White House, where she interned for Lyndon Baines Johnson, and eventually became a successful, prize-winning presidential biographer. Thanking librarians for the award, Goodwin said the “love of books and libraries” instilled in her by her mother became “the anchor" of her life.
In her speech, Tartt noted how appropriate it was that she received the award in Las Vegas, as the city is so much a part of the The Goldfinch. "And I want to say how happy I am to be receiving this award from you, the American Library Association,” Tartt said, explaining that she comes from a family of librarians. "When I was a child, the library was an extension of my own house and, over the years, many libraries have become homes to me in both my reading and writing life."
Tartt went on to praise libraries for their central role in our literary culture, and in her own life. “All writers begin as readers," she said. "And it is not saying too much that, if not for libraries, and the kindness of librarians from childhood onward, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
Now in its third year, the Carnegie Medals have grown quickly and appear well on the way to becoming a prestigious and coveted award. The awards event has grown larger every year; this year’s shortlist announcement generated more than 400,000 mentions on the Internet, ALA officials said.
In addition to Tartt and Goodwin’s speeches, this year’s event also included a hilarious, and heartfelt keynote from author and library advocate Karin Slaughter, who reflected on her upbringing in the American south, and the vital role libraries played in her life.
Established in 2012, the Carnegie medals recognize the best fiction and nonfiction books for adult readers published in the U.S. in the previous year, and are selected by a committee of librarians, chaired by former Seattle librarian and NPR (and PW) contributor Nancy Pearl. Pearl praised the winners, and all the books on the shortlist, and said choosing the two winners “is no easy task.” PW contributing editor Brian Kenney also served on the 2014 committee, and in an April column, wrote that the experience "made him a better librarian."
In a bittersweet closing, Pearl announced that this was her last year chairing the awards. She praised the experience, and thanked her fellow librarians for their support for the now established award, which she said has a bright future. She closed the program with two words that brought a round of loud applause: "Carnegies forever."