14th Annual Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner

“Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goes out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead.” – Cicero, Roman Statesman

The Chicago Public Library Foundation hosted its 14th annual Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner on Wednesday, October 23 at The Forum (725 West Roosevelt Road) on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Co-chairs Marcy Carlin and Tom Ricketts and sponsor BMO Harris Bank welcomed over 700 guests to the lavish event produced by Donna LaPietra, emceed by witty Bill Kurtis, and catered by the magnificent George Jewell Events.

The foundation raised $1.5 million for the Chicago Public Library outreach programs, including the Summer Learning Challenge; One Book, One Chicago; Teacher in the Library; and CyberNavigators. This year’s honorees included bestselling nonfiction author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side, Liar’s Poker, Boomerang); fiction author Isabel Allende (The House of Spirits, Island Beneath the Sea); and 21st Century Award was bestowed upon Christine Sneed (Little Known Facts, Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry).

Aside from the evening’s three honorees, 74 Chicago-based authors were recognized during the program, including Rich Cohen, Tavi Gevinson, Steve James, Paul Lisnek, Sandro Miller, and Elise Paschen, to name a few. Following the program, each author was seated at a table with attendees, who had the chance to not only talk with the authors, but also get an autographed copy of their book. My table was graced by the presence of Stanley Paul, pianist and orchestra-leader in Chicago for over 35 years. Mr. Paul shared a copy of his melodious CD with everyone at Table #32.

In his introduction, Bill Kurtis welcomed everyone and prior to introducing the authors, he paid tribute to both Bernard Sahlins and Roger Ebert. Next on stage, David R. Casper, Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking at BMO Harris, said that the bank was proud to be the main sponsor of the event and equally proud to be co-sponsor of one of the greatest reading programs, “One Book, One Chicago.” On congratulating the authors, Mr. Casper shares, “I would like to thank all of the authors. They are the social fiber of our whole city.”

Arriving a bit late from being overbooked for the evening, Mayor Rahm Emanuel  made it on time to give a speech. He talked about the City’s budget being presented earlier in the day. The Mayor shared, “The city’s single goal is to make an investment in our children – the key is to make the students 100% college ready/college bound.” Last year 62,000 students participated in the library’s reading program logging in over 1.3 million books. The Mayor challenged the students to increase the number of books read and threw in a bone, saying that he would do the Polar Plunge in 2014. The numbers increased to 71,000 students and 2.1 million books. The Mayor responded by saying, “The little bums did it.” So expect to see the Mayor jumping in Lake Michigan in the middle of winter. The Mayor ended by saying, “The most important door a child walks through for their education is the front door of their home. Every neighborhood should serve the kids. The new library systems [which include Teacher in the Library; online tutoring 24/7, and new technology] are here to better serve the families.”

Robert Wislow, chair of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, thanked all of the board members of the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation, Rhona Frazin of the foundation along with her staff, Donna LaPietra and Bill Kurtis, and Marcy Carlin and Tom Ricketts. Mr. Wislow shared, “To date over $50 million has been raised for the Chicago Public Library by the Foundation.” Brian Bannon, Commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, talked about the importance of keeping up with current technology at all of the library’s branches.

Linda Johnson Rice, president of the Chicago Public Library, introduced Christine Sneed and presented her with the 21st Century Award. Ms. Sneed discussed the importance of reading at a young age and how her parents influenced her to read since she was a young child.

Following dinner, a Q&A with authors Allende and Lewis was moderated by the host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” Scott Simon. The evening closed with authors Allended, Lewis, and Sneed autographing copies of their current books while guests enjoyed a delectable dessert bar.

Johnny Knight Photographs


About Cindy Burns

Currently writing for TCW's 'Woman About Town' column, Cindy Burns covers Chicago's social scene, events, fashion, and interviews women and men who are making a difference in the world. With an M.A. in American History from DePaul University, Ms. Burns is an author, freelance writer, avid reader and researcher. Ms. Burns has spent over 20 years serving on charitable boards and organizations, and currently serves as a member of the Women's Board of the Joffrey Ballet and the Women's Auxiliary Board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. She is also an Honorary Member of the Children's Service Board of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. When Ms. Burns isn't running around Chicago covering current events, you can find her biking, on the tennis courts, or hiking in a mountainous region of her choice.