When the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction were first awarded in 2012, American Library Association leaders hoped to establish an award for adult books that would one day assume the prestige of the association’s historic Newbery and Caldecott awards, the gold standards for kids’ books. Now in their sixth year, the Carnegie Medals have become a coveted literary honor, and the award ceremonies at ALA have created some memorable moments, including powerful speeches by winners.

This year’s event promises to be another great evening. The program will include Sara Paretsky as the featured speaker, as well as remarks from this year’s fiction medalist Colson Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) and nonfiction medalist Matthew Desmond (Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City). The speakers will then mingle with attendees and publishers at a dessert-and-drinks reception. This year’s program is set for 8–10 p.m. on Saturday, June 24, at the Hilton Chicago. Tickets are available via the ALA annual conference website.

In Anaheim, Calif., the first-ever Andrew Carnegie medals go to Anne Enright for her novel The Forgotten Waltz (Norton) and Robert K. Massie for Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House). Though neither author is able to attend the reception, Enright charmed librarians in a video message from her home in Ireland, recounting how her grandmother was handed a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses from under the counter of the Phibsboro library.

In Chicago, Richard Ford wins for his novel Canada (Ecco) and Timothy Egan takes home nonfiction honors Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Both authors are on hand to accept their awards—and speak effusively of their connection to libraries.

In Las Vegas, Donna Tartt wins for her novel The Goldfinch (Little, Brown) and Doris Kearns Goodwin wins nonfiction honors for The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster). “All writers begin as readers,” Tartt says in her remarks. “If not for libraries, and the kindness of librarians from childhood onward, I wouldn’t be standing here.” Kearns-Goodwin tells librarians her love of books and libraries is the “anchor” of her life. “When I was a child, the library was an extension of my own house,” she recalls, “and, over the years, many libraries have become homes to me in both my reading and writing life.”


In San Francisco, Anthony Doerr wins fiction honors for his novel All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner) and Bryan Stevenson takes the nonfiction prize for Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Random/Spiegel & Grau). Stevenson’s impassioned speech about race, poverty, and justice is regarded by many in attendance as the greatest book award acceptance speech ever, and goes viral after being published by PW. “I wrote this book because I was persuaded that if people saw what I see, they would insist on something different,” Stevenson says. “And that’s what’s powerful about books. That’s what great about the library. Getting people closer to worlds and situations that they can’t otherwise know and understand.”

In Orlando, Viet Thanh Nguyen takes home the fiction medal for The Sympathizer (Grove) and Sally Mann wins nonfiction honors for Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Little, Brown). “I always thought of the library as my true home,” Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American whose family immigrated to the United States in 1975 after the fall of Saigon, tells librarians, adding that he was spurred to write because “there were few books about people like me” on library shelves.