“Deacon King Kong,” “Fathoms: The World in the Whale” receive 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction

For Immediate Release
Thu, 02/04/2021


Communications and Marketing Office

ALA Media Relations



CHICAGO - The American Library Association (ALA) selects “Deacon King Kong,” by James McBride, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, as the winner of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and "Fathoms: The World in the Whale," by Rebecca Giggs, published by 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, 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.

Portraying a vibrant, multicultural 1969 Brooklyn neighborhood, James McBride’s novel introduces Cuffy “Sportcoat” Lambkin, the titular deacon and least likely of heroes. When Sportcoat shoots Deems Clemens, the boy he coached in baseball who has become a drug-dealer, everyone assumes the deacon’s days of freedom are numbered. McBride creates tragedies, funny moments, major plot twists, and cultural and generational clashes as characters develop emotionally while navigating a world that’s changing for better and for worse.

Fathoms evokes depth as a unit of measurement for bodies of water and as “an attempt to understand,” Rebecca Giggs notes at the start of her deeply delving and lyrically precise investigation. With fresh perceptions and cascades of facts, Giggs considers our ancient and persistent whale wonderment, high-tech whale hunting, global warming, mass extinction, and pollution, including the oceanic plastic plague, urging us to save the whales, the oceans, and ourselves. 

“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.”

The 2021 fiction finalists include “A Burning”, by Megha Majumdar, published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC; “Deacon King Kong,” by James McBride, published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC; and “Homeland Elegies,” by Ayad Akhtar, published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Group, Inc. 

2021 nonfiction finalists include “Fathoms: The World in the Whale,” by Rebecca Giggs, published by Simon & Schuster; “Just Us: An American Conversation,” by Claudia Rankine, published by Graywolf Press; and “Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir,” by Natasha Trethewey, published by Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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

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 regarding winners and finalists and the awards can be found at http://www.ala.org/rusa/awards/carnegie-medals.

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 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.