ALA unveils shortlist for 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction

For Immediate Release
Mon, 11/16/2020


Communications and Marketing Office

ALA Media Relations


CHICAGO – The American Library Association (ALA) today announced the six books shortlisted for the esteemed Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, awarded for the previous year's best fiction and nonfiction books written for adult readers and published in the United States. The two medal winners will be announced by 2021 selection committee chair Bill Kelly at the Reference and User Services Association’s Book and Media Awards (BMAs) event, which will take place online on Thursday, February 4, 2021, 3 - 4 p.m. CT.

2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction shortlist titles include:

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction 2021 Shortlist

“A Burning,” by Megha Majumdar. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
After witnessing a gruesome train-station attack during her walk home to the slums, Jivan responds to a Facebook post. Days later, she has been beaten, jailed, and accused of terrorism, and the two people who could possibly save her have other priorities. Majumdar’s electrifying debut serves as a barometer measuring the seeming triviality of human life and the fragility of human connections.

“Deacon King Kong,” by James McBride. Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Portraying a 1969 Brooklyn neighborhood through its outsiders, McBride creates tragedies, funny moments, major plot twists, and cultural and generational clashes. When the titular deacon, Sportcoat, the least likely of heroes, shoots a 19-year-old drug-dealer, everyone assumes the deacon’s days of freedom are numbered. But all is not as it seems.

“Homeland Elegies,” by Ayad Akhtar. Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Akhtar confronts issues of race, money, family, politics, and sexuality in this bold, memoiristic novel about a young Pakistani American before and after 9/11. Money, and the debasement of other values, is a defining element of narrator Ayad’s relationship with his writing and his father, while the country’s crude racism prods both men to question whether America can ever truly be their home.

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction 2020 Shortlist

“Fathoms: The World in the Whale,” by Rebecca Giggs. Simon & Schuster.
Focusing on the history and current plight of whales, Giggs considers our ancient and persistent whale wonderment, high-tech whale hunting, the 1970s Save the Whales movement, global warming, mass extinction, and pollution, including the oceanic plastic plague. Deeply researched and deeply felt, Giggs’ revelatory and haunting investigation urges us to save the whales once again, and the oceans, and ourselves.

“Just Us: An American Conversation,” by Claudia Rankine. Graywolf Press.
With an arresting blend of essays and images that’s perfectly attuned to this long-overdue moment of racial reckoning, Rankine analyzes the overwhelming power of whiteness in everyday interactions. Touching on Beyoncé, blondness, skin lightening, and the inherent tensions in her own interracial marriage, Rankine once again opens a literary window into the Black experience.

“Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir,” by Natasha Trethewey. Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.
In her memoir, a work of exquisitely distilled anguish and elegiac drama, Trethewey confronts the horror of her mother’s murder through finely honed, evermore harrowing memories, dreams, visions, and musings. She writes, “To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it.” And tell her tragic story she does in this lyrical, courageous, and resounding remembrance.

Carnegie Medal winners will each receive $5,000. All the finalists will be honored during a celebratory event in the summer of 2021 during the ALA Annual Conference.

The awards, established in 2012, serve as a guide to help adults select quality reading material. They are the first single-book awards for adult books given by the American Library Association and reflect the expert judgment and insight of library professionals and booksellers who work closely with adult readers.

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).

More information on the finalists and the awards can be found at Also, book cover artwork is available for download at

About Carnegie Corporation of New York
Carnegie Corporation of New York was established in 1911 by Andrew Carnegie to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the Corporation's work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of education and knowledge, and the strength of our democracy. 

About Booklist
Booklist is the book review magazine of the American Library Association, considered an essential collection development and readers' advisory tool by thousands of librarians for more than 100 years. Booklist Online includes a growing archive of 200,000+ reviews available to subscribers as well as a wealth of free content offering the latest news and views on books and media.

About Reference and User Services Association (RUSA)
The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) is a member community engaged in advancing the practices of connecting people to resources, information services, and collections, building relationships among members from all types of libraries, encouraging openness, innovation, and idea-sharing, and promoting excellence in library services and resources.

About ALA
Established in 1876, the American Library Association (ALA) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization created to provide leadership in the transformation and the development, promotion, and improvement of library and information services as well as the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all.