Thursday, February 04, 2021

Historical fiction award winners at the 2021 ALA RUSA Book and Media Awards

This afternoon, I attended the first virtual ceremony for the Reference & User Services Association (RUSA) Book and Media Awards, an hour-long event that celebrated fiction and nonfiction in a number of categories.  Being on a book award committee is hard work, and I always enjoy seeing the winners that were chosen. Tomorrow I plan to place a bunch of orders for titles my library doesn't already own.

Three of the winners on this year's Reading List were historical fiction.  Depicted above:

The Historical Fiction category winner: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora, about the life of a healer tending to the formerly enslaved on a Southern plantation after the Civil War.

On the Historical Fiction shortlist:  Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon (about WWII heroine Nancy Wake); The Cold Millions by Jess Walter (early 20th-century Spokane); The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue (the 1918 flu pandemic); and The Land Beyond the Sea by Sharon Kay Penman (the 12th-century Kingdom of Jerusalem).

The Mystery category winner: Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood, about a female private-detective team in 1940s NYC.

On the Mystery shortlist: The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (mystery set on a 17th-century merchant ship) and Karen Odden's A Trace of Deceit (a Victorian mystery).

The Romance category winner: The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan, a historical romance of 19th-century Britain featuring two characters of Chinese heritage.

The 2021 ALA Notable Books List also included some historical novels, including Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half (race and identity starting in 1950s Louisiana), James McBride's Deacon King Kong (dark humor in 1969 Brooklyn), Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet (focusing on Shakespeare's wife and children), and Paul Yoon's Run Me to Earth (war in 1960s Laos).

And the culmination of the award ceremony was the presentation of the 2021 Carnegie Medal winners. The award for excellence in fiction went to James McBride for Deacon King Kong.  

Congrats to all!


  1. These all sound enticing. I'm makIng a bee-line to Conjure Women. Thanks for all you do for writers and readers.

    1. Conjure Women does look especially good!

  2. Courtney Milan started self-publishing early on so that she could have a larger financial benefit from her work. Unfortunately this means her books aren't as easy to purchase through Brodart etc. Interesting writeup on her at Wikipedia.

    1. She does have an interesting background.
      We buy self-published novels from Amazon or Alibris, but I realize some libraries have to go through other vendors.