Receiving a literary prize from the American Library Association is a kind of homecoming for essayist-poet Hanif Abdurraqib.
“When I was young, I treated the library as a place to pass time, to get lost in books that I could have otherwise not afforded to own, music that I could not have afforded to have,” said Abdurraqib, 38, a recipient of an Andrew Carnegie Medal for his A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance, in a recent interview.
On Sunday, the library association awarded Abdurraqib the Medal for Excellence in non-fiction and gave the fiction prize to Tom Lin, 25, the youngest ever Carnegie winner, for his debut novel The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu. Each author received $5,000 and will be honoured in June at the association's annual conference.
Abdurraqib who was born in Columbus, Ohio, credits the library system as a thread throughout his life, whether as quiet place for his imagination, a refuge during times he was short of money or a source for a favourite book. He currently lives near the Martin Luther King Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and stops by often.
“I made a conscious decision to cut down on the amount of books in my home over the past two years, which means I get to return to the delight of getting books from the library – being on a waiting list and getting the email that my time has come,” he says. “All of that stuff. It’s like returning to the version of myself that looked at the place with a sense of endless 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 as a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
Lin also has vivid library memories, notably of the children's section in the Flushing branch of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York City, “this beautiful triangular building", and a favourite chair that was so high his feet barely touched the ground. Now a PhD student in English at the University of California, Davis, he makes frequent use of the campus library, “walking in with a stack of books to return and walking out with an equally tall stack of new books to read”.
“Nearly all of my research happens through the library, and that’s really not an exaggeration,” he says. “Since I’m beginning work on my dissertation, I’ll only be spending yet more time in the library in months and years to come – and I could not be more excited about it.”
The Carnegie medals were established in 2012, enabled in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Previous winners include James McBride, Jennifer Egan and Doris Kearns Goodwin.