The 2017 Carnegie Award Ceremony: Prepare Thyself

Midwinter is coming up, and with it, the sixth Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, which will be announced at the RUSA Book and Media Awards in Atlanta on Sunday, January 22.

Get ready. On Tuesday, Booklist Adult Books editor and Carnegie committee chair Donna Seaman will host a webinar on this year’s finalists—and three of them will make an appearance. For virtual hangs with Michael Chabon, Patricia Bell-Scott, and Patrick Phillips, register here.

Meanwhile, our #ShareTheStory campaign is plunging full-stream ahead. Selected stories will be featured in the Carnegie program at Midwinter.

But wait, there’s more! Before the holidays, we interviewed each of the finalists about her book. Is that enough preparation for you?

Patricia Bell-Scott talked about The Firebrand the First Lady.

Patricia Bell-Scott. Photo courtesy of the author.

“I chose to write a dual portrait for several reasons. First, I have a personal and scholarly interest in long-term friendships. Second, I was intrigued by Murray’s reference to Eleanor Roosevelt in what proved to be her last letter to me. Third, I believed that the chapters devoted to E. R. in Murray’s autobiography called for deeper exploration, and I had the sense that Murray hoped someone would take the bait. Finally, my intuition about the significance Murray attached to the friendship was confirmed when I came across a letter in which she told a friend that she was making notes for a biography that would probably not be published in her lifetime.”

Michael Chabon talked about Moonglow.

Michael Chabon. Photograph by David Butow.

“I’m not interested in writing humor, per se. I would never want to try to write something that was primarily concerned with being funny. I want to write about really serious subjects, and the most important subjects: mortality and love, and what matters and what doesn’t matter in the end. Even just saying those words, I immediately feel like I need to make a joke about it, too. I’m always on guard against self-importance and pomposity. As a reader, I need some kind of irony, at least. It doesn’t necessarily have to be humorous irony, but there has to be certain kind of distance. I don’t like to read fiction as just purely a grueling experience where you’re plunged into an unrelieved experience of misery and suffering. There has to be some kind of ironic detachment, or else it doesn’t actually have the impact on me that I think the author might want it to.”

Matthew Desmond talked about Evicted.

Matthew Desmond. Photo by Michael Kienitz.

“The housing crisis today has reached this incredible, acute point where the majority of poor, renting families are spending half of their income on housing, and one in four of those families are spending at least 70% of their income just on rent and utilities. It wasn’t like that 15 years ago, 20 years ago. We move from a point where evictions used to be rare in America and used to draw crowds, to a point that they’ve been commonplace; they’re completely destabilizing families and schools and entire communities. I think that’s one of the reasons that we hadn’t heard about it before: Housing  has long been a problem in America for families of modest means, but we’re at a different point today—we’re at a fever pitch. The lack of affordable housing in our cities adds to the frequency and the commonality of eviction.”

Patrick Phillips talked about Blood at the Root.

patrick-phillips“In 1980, when I was 10, an African American firefighter named Miguel Marcelli was shot just a few miles from our house, and I remember how furious people got when my mother went around asking questions. In 1987, when I was 16, I saw men with nooses parading around the town square, and heard them chanting “White Power.” So while being a former resident had its upsides, it also made me very conscious that I was breaking my home’s most powerful taboo, and might become a target for some dangerous people. That may sound like an exaggeration, but anyone from Forsyth County will understand.”

Zadie Smith talked about Swing Time.

Photo: © Dominique Nabokov

“Whenever I am in impoverished places in the world I feel my own incompetence and comparative innocence. The thing about extreme poverty is you have to be so ingenious to survive it: every element of your daily life is about finding a work-around, a fix, a life hack. It amuses me that the very rich in Silicon Valley have appropriated these terms for themselves when it is really the very poor who are the masters of it. To survive on the equivalent of a dollar a day takes all kinds of daily mastery of your circumstance.”

Colson Whitehead talked about The Underground Railroad.

Colson Whitehead. Photo by Madeline Whitehead.

“The way I see it, one of the backbones of post-apocalypse literature is the search for a safe refuge, whether in post-nuclear war fiction or zombie novels. People are always looking for that human refuge over the next hill. Then they find a place and it’s overrun, and they have to keep going. They’re animated by a very improbable hope that they can be safe. I think that is what animates Mark Spitz in Zone One and a lot of heroes in post-apocalypse literature. I think that impossible hope also animates Cora. Why should she believe that there is any place of freedom when all she’s witnessed her whole life is the brutality of the plantation? Yet she persists.”

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About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist. She worked in bookstores for twelve years, reviews books for The Boston Globe, and writes about books, culture, and politics for several other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @Booklist_Genie.

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