The American Library Association on February 4 announced Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Riverhead Books) as the winner of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs (Simon & Schuster) as the winner of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

The selections were announced at the Reference and User Services Association's Book and Media Awards (BMAs) virtual event, sponsored by NoveList, on Thursday, February 4, 2021. The awards, which were established in 2012, have become a highly coveted literary honor, reflecting the expert judgment and insight of library professionals and booksellers who work closely with adult readers.

McBride earned a starred review for what PW called a "sharply compassionate shaggy dog tale of a heavy drinking Baptist deacon who shoots a drug dealer and becomes a walking dead man.” Booklist's Donna Seaman praised Giggs' book as a "deeply researched and deeply felt" book that urges us "to save the whales once again, and the oceans, and ourselves."

The Medals are made possible, in part, by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York in recognition of Andrew Carnegie’s deep belief in the power of books and learning to change the world, and are co-sponsored by ALA’s Booklist and the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA).

“It has been my great honor to work with this committee of such passionate and discerning readers,” said Bill Kelly, chair of the selection committee for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence. “As we collectively read and discussed scores of incredible books this last year, a year of extraordinary challenges, we discovered a renewed appreciation for the power of literature. More than ever we need books that nourish the mind and heart alike. Our two winners are exemplars of this power and it is our privilege to award them this honor.”

This year's fiction finalists also include A Burning by Megha Majumdar (Alfred A. Knopf), which PW praised as a "memorable, impactful work," and Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown and Company), which graced the cover of PW's 2020 Best Books issue.

Nonfiction finalists included Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press), which PW called a "unique and powerful meditation on the challenges of communicating across the racial divide in America," and Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (Ecco) hailed by PW as a "beautifully composed, achingly sad memoir" from the U.S. poet laureate Trethewey.