Valeria Luiselli’s novel “Lost Children Archive” and Adam Higginbotham’s nonfiction “Midnight in Chernobyl” have been awarded the Andrew Carnegie Medal, a $5,000 prize presented by the American Library Association.
The awards for fiction and nonfiction were announced Sunday and honor two of last year’s most acclaimed books. “Lost Children Archive,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle prize, blends fiction and documentation as it probes the fates of refugee children. “Midnight in Chernobyl” recounts the 1986 nuclear power disaster and the Soviet Union government’s desperate efforts to conceal it.
“We hope that librarians will find the two Carnegie winners to be powerful and fruitful titles to recommend and discuss,” prize committee chair Donna Seaman said in a statement. The awards were announced during the library association’s annual mid-winter meeting, held this year in Philadelphia.
Previous Carnegie medal winners include Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” adapted into a feature film that is now in theaters.
Both Luiselli and Higginbotham are lifelong fans of libraries. In a recent email to The Associated Press, Luiselli called herself a “radical nerd” and praised the Carnegie prize as “the ultimate radical nerd award.” A native of Mexico City, she lived everywhere from Wisconsin to Costa Rica growing up and remembers attending an American elementary school in South Korea, where she would sneak into the high school library to read horror stories.
Now a resident of New York City, the 36-year-old Luiselli says she has “spent more time in libraries — between the stacks, in silent reading rooms, in the rare books & manuscript sections, and hovering behind the lenses of microfilm readers — than is probably healthy.
“But I have a good pair of reading glasses and antihistamines in my bag,” she adds.
Higginbotham, 51, also knows well the interiors of the New York Public Library system. While working on “Midnight in Chernobyl: : The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster,” he was a visiting scholar at the system’s main branch in midtown Manhattan, blessed with “a quiet and beautiful place to work, and access to the amazing research collections of libraries in the New York City system and beyond.”
Libraries helped inspire the British author’s choice of careers and extend his literary knowledge into unexpected worlds. As a teenager, he found a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” in the library of the Wells Cathedral School, “at the time perhaps the only example of modern American literature in the entire building.”
“It was so astonishingly unlike any of the other works on offer that I was certain it had been placed on the shelves only as a result of some administrative error,” he told the AP In a recent email. “I read it repeatedly — before someone realized their mistake and removed it — and it helped convince me to put my plans to become an astronaut on hold, and become a writer instead.”
The medals are made possible, in part, by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.