Receiving a literary award from the American Library Association is a kind of homecoming for essayist-poet Hanif Abdurraqib.
“When I was young, I thought of the library as a place to pass the time, to get lost in books I couldn’t otherwise afford, music I couldn’t afford to have,” Abdurraqib, 38, the recipient of an Andrew Carnegie Medal for “A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance,” said in a recent interview.
On Sunday, the library association awarded Abdurraqib the Medal of Excellence in Non-Fiction and awarded the Fiction Prize to 25-year-old Tom Lin, the youngest Carnegie winner, for his debut novel “The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu”. Each author receives $5,000 and will be honored in June at the association’s annual conference.
Abdurraqib is a Columbus, Ohio native who moved back there a few years ago, and the library system has been a common thread throughout – whether it’s a quiet place for his imagination , a refuge during times when he lacked money or a source for a favorite book. He currently lives near the Martin Luther King branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and stops there often.
“I’ve made a conscious decision to reduce the amount of books in my house over the past two years, which means I can rediscover the pleasure of getting books from the library – being on a waiting list and receiving email that my time has come,” he says. “All that stuff. It’s like going back to the version of myself that was looking at the place with an endless sense of wonder, which is cool.
Abdurraqib’s other books include the poetry collections “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much” and “A Fortune for Your Disaster”. Last year, he was named the recipient of a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation.
Lin also has vivid library memories, including the children’s section of the Flushing branch of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York, “that beautiful triangular building”, and a favorite chair high enough that her feet barely touch the ground. Now a PhD in English at the University of California, Davis makes frequent use of the campus library, “entering with a pile of books to fetch and leaving with an equally tall pile of new books to read.”
“Almost all of my research is done through the library, and that’s really not an exaggeration,” he says. “Since I’ve started working on my dissertation, I won’t be spending even more time in the library in the months and years to come – and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
The Carnegie Medals were established in 2012, in part through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Previous winners are James McBride, Jennifer Egan and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
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