ALA Unveils 2020 Carnegie Medals Shortlist

Six finalists for excellence in fiction and nonfiction

November 4, 2019

On November 4 the American Library Association (ALA) announced the six books shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, awarded for the previous year’s best books written for adult readers and published in the United States. The two medal winners will be announced on January 26, 2020, at the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) Book and Media Awards during the ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Philadelphia.

The 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction shortlist titles include:


  • Figuring, by Maria Popova (Pantheon). Popova brings her zest for facts and passion for biography to this inquiry into the lives of geniuses who “bridged the scientific and poetic,” spinning a fine web connecting such barrier-breakers as Rachel Carson, Frederick Douglass, Margaret Fuller, and Ada Lovelace.
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer (Riverhead). Treuer presents a richly dimensional counternarrative to the long-standing depiction of defeated, hopeless Native Americans, documenting the many ways each assault against Indigenous lives and cultures gave rise to a strong Native resolve not only to survive but to emerge revitalized.
  • Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster, by Adam Higginbotham (Simon & Schuster). Higginbotham has created a thoroughly researched, fast-paced, engrossing, and revelatory account of what led up to and what followed the explosion of Reactor Four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, focusing on the people involved as they faced shocking circumstances that are still having significant global consequences.


  • Feast Your Eyes, by Myla Goldberg (Scribner). In this brilliantly structured and deeply insightful novel about a radical photographer and single mother and how her controversial images affect her daughter, Goldberg brings into provocative focus the need to make art, the obstacles confronting women artists, and the transcendence of love.
  • Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli (Alfred A. Knopf). Intense and timely, Luiselli’s novel tracks husband-and-wife audio documentarians as they travel with their two children across the country and deep into the painful history of the Apache people and the present immigration crisis on the Southwest border, while freshly exploring themes of conquest and remembrance and powerfully conveying the beauty of the haunted landscape.
  • The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World). Coates’s first novel is a profoundly imagined and socially perceptive drama about the atrocities of slavery filtered through the experiences and convictions of young Hiram Walker, who, as the son of an enslaved woman and the owner of a prominent Virginia estate, possesses a strange and liberating power.

Carnegie Medal winners will each receive $5,000. All finalists will be honored during an event at ALA’s 2020 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

The medals, 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 ALA 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 cosponsored by ALA’s Booklist and RUSA.


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