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Literature

Library Association Awards Carnegie Medals to McBride, Giggs

February 5, 2021

NEW YORK — This year's winners of the Carnegie medals for fiction and nonfiction, presented by the American Library Association, have each checked out a few books in their time. 

"I work from libraries a lot, and my wallet is full of library cards," says Rebecca Giggs, an Australian author whose "Fathoms: The World in the Whale" received the nonfiction prize Thursday. 

James McBride, the fiction winner for "Deacon King Kong," has library cards in four different cities and wrote parts of his novel in branches in New York City and Philadelphia.

"In New York you can get anything you want but it takes longer because you can't leave the library with them. But in Philly, you can," explained McBride, whose novel last year was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her book club. 

With a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the library association established the award in 2012, with winners in each category receiving $5,000. Previous honorees include Donna Tartt, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Colson Whitehead.

McBride and Giggs each have strong childhood memories of libraries. McBride, a longtime New Yorker, would visit them often because they were a "safe space" and because his family couldn't afford to buy many books. Giggs remembers her mother getting into aerobics "in a big way" and , a few nights a week, dropping off her and her sister at a library next door to the workout space. 

Ghost stories were a favorite.

"Especially 'true histories of the paranormal' with photographs of poltergeists that were in fact only smudges, or the developer's accidental thumbprints, in attic-windows and on staircases," she says "Back then, as now, I was interested in the boundary-lines between fact, documentation, and belief — a theme that threads through 'Fathoms,' which is as much about the myths whales sustain, as the science of animal-life in the oceans of the 21st century."

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