The winners of the Andrew Carnegie medals have been announced. The prize recognizes the best fiction and nonfiction books for adult readers published in the U.S. in a calendar year.
Kiese Laymon was awarded the medal in nonfiction for his memoir, Heavy, and Rebecca Makkai won the medal in fiction for The Great Believers. You can read our most recent interview with Makkai here; check out the review of Heavy from Publishers Weekly below:
In this stylish and complex memoir, Laymon, an English professor at the University of Mississippi and novelist (Long Division), presents bittersweet episodes of being a chubby outsider in 1980s Mississippi. He worships his long-suffering, resourceful grandmother, who loves the land her relatives farmed for generations and has resigned herself to the fact of commonplace bigotry. Laymon laces the memoir with clever, ironic observations about secrets, sexual trauma, self-deception, and pure terror related to his family, race, Mississippi, friends, and a country that refuses to love him and his community. He becomes an educator and acknowledges the inadequacies in his own education, noting that his teachers ‘weren’t being paid right. I knew they were expected to do work they were unprepared to start or finish.’ He also writes about living among white people, including a family for whom his grandmother did the laundry: ‘It ain’t about making white folk feel what you feel,’ he quotes his grandmother. ‘It’s about not feeling what they want you to feel.’ His evolution is remarkable, from a ‘hard-headed’ troubled teen to an intellectually curious youth battling a college suspension for a pilfering a library book to finally journeying to New York to become a much-admired professor and accomplished writer. Laymon convincingly conveys that difficult times can be overcome with humor and self-love, as he makes readers confront their own fears and insecurities.