Meet our 2024 Library Foundation Award honorees.

2018 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner Raises $2.4 million for Chicago Public Library

This year’s Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner was the largest fundraising event in the history of the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Chicago Public Library!

CSLA guest authors, Carl Sandburg Literary Awards
90 authors come together in support of Chicago Public Library

Nearly 1,000 corporate and civic leaders and 90 authors came together to raise $2.4 million that will fund educational programs and initiatives of the Library, such as CyberNavigators, One Book, One Chicago, the Maker Lab, Teacher in the Library, and YOUmedia. “We are making a difference in the lives of Chicagoans. We provide support to people of all ages, gender,  race, and ethnicity – especially to those who need this support the most,” said Brian Bannon, Library Commissioner.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the impact of the City’s $275 million capital investment in library spaces throughout the city during his time in office. “We are doing an unprecedented economic investment in our public libraries and we are seeing results. For the past six years, Chicago’s graduation rate has gone up. We now have a 78.5 % graduation rate. 68% of our high school students are also going to college.” The  Mayor has stressed the role of libraries in the community. “The Library is more than just a place for checking out books, it is a great equalizer that makes sure every resident of Chicago gets a fair opportunity for a better future.”

The Sandburg Award was presented to two of the most influential authors of this generation, critically-acclaimed YA author, Judy Blume (Are You there God? It’s Me, Margaret, Here’s to You, Rachel Robinson, and Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing) and astrophysicist and science advocate, Neil deGrasse Tyson (Death by Black Hole, Other Cosmic Quandaries, and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry). Their works have shaped the literary landscape of this generation and the generations to come.
The 21st Century Award was also given to Chicago’s very own, Erika L. Sánchez. Her novel, I am not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, was a New York Times bestseller and a finalize for the 2017 National Book Award. In her acceptance speech, she emphasized the importance of being able to see themselves in books. “I learned early that girls like me didn’t exist in books, so I created them,” she said in candor.
Chicago’s iconic newsman, Bill Kurtis, hosted the event which was produced wit his wife and Chicago Public Library Foundation Board Director, Donna La Pietra.

2018 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards
If you think Neil deGrasse Tyson and Judy Blume have nothing in common, think again

The Smartest Event in Town

What puts the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards at the front and center of Chicago’s literary scene is its intellectually stimulating conversations. NPR host and author, Scott Simon, moderated a discussion with honorees, Judy and Neil, to the audience’s delight. As different as the two authors were, they were bounded by curiosity – curiosity that led them to writing. “I write because I cannot not write,” Judy explained and Neil could not agree more. After the short tête-à-tête, guests lined up to have the authors sign copies of the honorees’ books.
Throughout the night, guests had the opportunity to dine and converse with phenomenal authors from different fields and genres – biographies, fiction, food, photography, sports, and others. This year, attendees were seated amidst writers like Geoffrey Baer, Ira Berkow, and Rebecca Makkai. One attendee was even fortunate to take home 90 books, all signed by esteemed authors

Rhona Frenzin, 2018 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards, CSLA 2018
For the last 14 years, Rhona has led the Chicago Public Library Foundation

A Tribute Befitting a Visionary Leader

Making the evening more special was a moving tribute to Rhona Frazin, retired Library Foundation President and CEO. For 14 years, Rhona’s strategic leadership propelled the Foundation’s success. Her enthusiasm attracted a highly engaged Board of Directors. Her passion transformed the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner to national prominence. As Bob Wislow, Board Chair, narrated Rhona’s achievements, the audience clapped in admiration of her contribution to the Library Foundation, the literary world, and the non-profit sector.

A Toast to Chicago Public Library’s No. 1 Fan: Jim Donnelley

The Carl Sandburg Literary Awards is a celebration – of authors, of the Chicago literary landscape, and of Chicago Public Library. This year, it was also the celebration of a life well-lived. A founding member of the Chicago Library Foundation, James “Jim” Donnelley is arguably Chicago Public Library’s number 1 fan. His dedication for the curious manifested in the programs and initiatives he has made possible. As Shawn Donnelley spoke of Jim’s life and the lives he touched, the room felt nothing but admiration and gratitude for the man with a big smile and an even bigger heart. His legacy will always be felt by the Library and the City of Chicago.
Indeed, the 2018 Carl Sandburg Literary Awards was a resounding success, a success that will benefit Chicagoans of all ages, gender, race, and status who depend on resources offered at Chicago Public Library.
Thank you for your support and we hope to see you next year!
Check-out the photos of the evening here:


The Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner is the major fundraising event of the Chicago Public Library Foundation. We extend a heartfelt thank you to our generous sponsors, BMO Harris Bank, Peoples Gas, Rolex, Advanced Resources, CBRE, Susan and Robert Wislow, and the Zell Family Foundation.