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Julie Otsuka, Ed Yong win Carnegie Medals for Excellence

January 30, 2023 Hillel Italie, Associated Press
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Novelist Julie Otsuka has strong memories of libraries from her childhood California — the bike rides with her best friend to the local branch; the soft, firm sound of librarians closing books; the shopping bags she and her friend would fill with science fiction and other stories.

“It seemed like I lived at the library,” she says. “I felt very free to explore there, and explore away from adult eyes.”

The library community also has warm feelings about Otsuka. Her novel “The Swimmers,” in which a group of swimmers collectively narrate their daily routines and what happens when those routines are disrupted, has won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, a $5,000 honor presented by the American Library Association. Ed Yong’s “An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us” won the nonfiction medal, which also comes with a $5,000 cash prize.

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“Julie Otsuka proves herself a master of narrative voice, thrillingly balancing the incredible vitality of community life with the myriad challenges faced by individuals and families within that community,” Stephen Sposato, chair of the medals’ selection committee, said in a statement released Sunday.

“And, standing out even during a recent golden age of nature writing, Ed Yong dazzles with a deeply considered exploration of the many modes of sensory perception that life has evolved to navigate the world, written with exhilarating freshness.”

Otsuka, 60, has also written the novels “The Buddha in the Attic,” winner of the PEN/Faulkner award in 2011; and “When the Emperor Was Divine.” Her other honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

The 41-year-old Yong, a native of Malaysia who emigrated to the United Kingdom in his teens, is a staff writer for The Atlantic. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2021 for his reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. Like Otsuka, Yong was influenced early by libraries. “Strangely enough for indoor spaces, libraries for me were gateways to the natural world,” he told The Associated Press. “As a kid, I spent a lot of time reading books that expanded my knowledge — and love — of nature, and I can only hope that ‘An Immense World’ does the same for people today.”

The Carnegie Medals were established in 2012, with help from a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Previous winners include James McBride, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Matthew Desmond.

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