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Colson Whitehead

Carl Sandburg Literary Award Honoree

Colson Whitehead is the author of eight novels and two non-fiction works, including The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, The Colossus of New York, Apex Hides the Hurt, Sag Harbor, Zone One, and The Noble Hustle. His novel The Underground Railroad was an international and #1 New York Times Bestseller and won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for Fiction, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature.

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He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine and included in the 2017 list of the “100 Most Influential People” compiled by Time. His novel The Nickel Boys won the Kirkus Prize, the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, was a finalist for the 2020 Southern Book Prize, and was longlisted for the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. The Nickel Boys was a long-running New York Times bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2020, making Whitehead a two-time winner of the award. His most recent novel, Harlem Shuffle, was published by Doubleday in 2021 and won the UN Thriller of the Year. The sequel, Crook Manifesto, will be published by Doubleday in July 2023. President Biden awarded Whitehead a National Endowment for the Humanities Medal in 2023.

Rebecca Makkai

21st Century Award Honoree

Rebecca Makkai’s 2018 novel, The Great Believers, was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award; it was the winner of the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Stonewall Book Award, the Clark Prize, and the LA Times Book Prize; and it was one of the New York Times’ Ten Best Books of 2018.

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Makkai’s other books include The Borrower, The Hundred-Year House, and the collection Music For Wartime—from which four stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories. A 2022 Guggenheim Fellow, Makkai is on the MFA faculties of Sierra Nevada University and Northwestern University and is the Artistic Director of StoryStudio Chicago. Her latest novel, I Have Some Questions For You, was published by Viking in February 2023. It is an Indie and New York Times bestseller.

Richard Hunt

Arts Award Honoree

Born in Chicago in 1935, Richard Hunt was one of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. He has made the largest contribution to public art in the United States. Over 150 public sculpture commissions grace prominent locations in 24 states and Washington, D.C. Hunt has held over 160 solo exhibitions and is represented in more than 100 public museums across the globe, from California to Maine, Detroit to Birmingham, and Vienna to Jerusalem.

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A descendant of slaves brought to this country through the port of Savannah, Georgia, Hunt grew up on the South Side of Chicago, first in Woodlawn and then Englewood. He was immersed in the cultural and artistic heritage of Chicago through art lessons at the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) and the Junior School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He made regular visits to Chicago’s major public museums and graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). As a student, Hunt taught himself how to weld. Only two years later in 1957, he gained national recognition when the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York acquired his sculpture, Arachne.

While serving in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Hunt desegregated the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Alamo Plaza on March 16, 1960, when he became the first African American to be served there. This brave action made San Antonio the first peaceful and voluntary lunch counter integration in the South. Hunt was the first African American visual artist to serve on the National Council on the Arts, appointed by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. He was only 35 years old at the time of his 1971 retrospective exhibition at MoMA—the first for an African American sculptor at the museum. In addition, in 1981, Hunt served as one of eight jurors, the sole African American, for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial competition in Washington, D.C.

Hunt has sculpted major monuments for some of our country’s greatest heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McLeod Bethune, Jesse Owens, Hobart Taylor, Jr., and Ida B. Wells. His sculptures have commemorated events from the slave trade and the Middle Passage to the Great Migration. His massive 30-foot, 1,500-pound bronze, Swing Low, hangs from the ceiling of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a monument to the African American Spiritual. Today, Hunt’s masterpiece, Hero Construction, stands as the centerpiece of the Art Institute of Chicago. And in 2022, Barack Obama commissioned Richard Hunt as the first artist to create a work for the Obama Presidential Center, Book Bird.

In 2022, a major artist’s monograph “Richard Hunt” was published becoming the definitive look at Hunt’s work and career. Additionally in 2022, the Getty Research Institute (GRI) acquired the Richard Hunt Archive. The GRI noted that “throughout his career, Hunt was central to important landmarks in African American art history and Civil Rights-era action.” The archive, approximately 800 linear ft., represents one of the largest artists’ archives in the country and an incredible source of documenting his life and work and the African American experience. 

When Hunt was nineteen years old he witnessed the open-casket funeral of Emmett Till in Chicago. Till who was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi in 1955, had grown up only 4 blocks from the home in Woodlawn where Hunt was born. Hunt would later remark “What happened to [Till] could have happened to me.” Hunt went on to create several works of art inspired by this experience which influenced both his artistic expression and his commitment to the cause of Civil Rights. In 2023, Hunt completed the sculptural model for the Emmett Till monument which will be, once enlarged in scale, installed at the childhood home of Mamie Till Mobley and Emmett Till in Chicago.

At 87 years old, Hunt has created sculpture for nearly seven decades. During that time, Hunt has received 18 honorary degrees and served on over two dozen boards, committees, and councils, including serving as a Commissioner for the National Museum of American Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution. Hunt received more than 30 major awards including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center, the Fifth Star Award from the City of Chicago, and the Legends and Legacy Award from the Art Institute of Chicago. Richard Hunt, working from his studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, is one of our country’s greatest artists.

Bob Wislow

Civic Award Honoree

A native Chicagoan, Wislow is known by friends and associates as a longtime dedicated steward for civic engagement in Chicago, an avid arts supporter, as well as a dedicated heli-skier, road biker, and fly fisherman.

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He has, or is currently serving, as Chairman of the board of many organizations and institutions, including the Chicago Public Library Foundation, Rush University, The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, The Museum of Contemporary Photography, North Central College, The Goodman Theater Business Council, Sculpture Chicago, and the Chicago Development Council, as well as being on the boards of the Civic Committee, CHICAGO Symphony, Columbia College, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Marwen Foundation, The Chicago Architecture Foundation, and Francis Parker School.

Wislow is the recipient of multiple career awards, including the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2004 Friends of the Park Award, the 2011 NAIOP Chicago Award for Excellence, the 2014 DePaul University Outstanding Leadership in the Real Estate Profession Award, the 2016 Chicago Architecture Foundation Legacy Award, the 2016 Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Roper Award, The AJC Civic Leadership Award, the 2020 Chicago Commercial Real Estate Legend Award, and the 2021 Grant Park Music Festival Advocate for the Arts Awards.

Headshot of Bob Wislow

Learn About the Awards

Check out previous award honorees from Margaret Atwood to Theaster Gates.