BEST-SELLING AUTHOR OF “The Joy Luck Club” Amy tan to be Honored During Annual Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards Celebration

Chicago Artist and Community Leader Theaster Gates to Receive Arts Award and  Actor and Director J. Nicole Brooks to Receive 21st Century Award

CHICAGO – Acclaimed author Amy Tan will receive the 2021 Carl Sandburg Literary Award from Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation, making her the first Asian American author to be presented with this honor. Tan’s novels The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement, are all New York Times bestsellers and mark key moments in Tan’s groundbreaking career.

The Arts Award, which celebrates the power and impact of Chicago’s artistic community, will be presented to the globally recognized artist and social innovator Theaster Gates. Raised on Chicago’s West Side and trained in ceramics, urban planning, and sculpture, Gates’s work demonstrates the impact of ambitious cultural initiatives and interventions in Black space, most notably through his work on the Southside with his organization Rebuild Foundation. Gates has exhibited globally, including but not limited to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Tate Liverpool, and the Venice Biennale.

Actor, author, director, playwright, and educator J. Nicole Brooks will receive the 21st Century Award, which honors significant recent achievements by a writer with ties to Chicago. A powerhouse in Chicago’s theatre scene, Brooks is an ensemble member and Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at the Lookingglass Theatre Company. Her most recent production, Her Honor Jane Byrne, premiered in 2020 and was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as, “a deeply moving portrait of human resilience.” Brooks is currently at work on a stage adaptation of 1919, a poetry anthology inspired by the 1919 Chicago race riot and penned by fellow 21st Century honoree, Dr. Eve L. Ewing.

Since 2000, the Library Foundation Awards has honored inspiring authors and artists while raising critical funds to advance Chicago Public Library programming and resources. This year, we will highlight how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago Public Library and the Library Foundation have come together to create programs that reach Chicagoans and beyond—whether at home, online, or in the branches.

The 2021 honorees will be celebrated at the annual Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards through a broadcast via YouTube on November 9, 6:00pm CST. The broadcast will feature conversations with our honorees filmed in front of a live audience of sponsors, whose support makes this event accessible to all.

Everyone is welcome to tune in and no ticket is required.

The event’s Presenting Sponsor is BMO Harris. It will be chaired by Adam and Denise Hoeflich alongside other civic leaders committed to our Library’s mission­­­­. Honorary chairs are Governor JB Pritzker & First Lady MK Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot & First Lady Amy Eshleman.

“Last year, the Library Foundation Awards was held virtually and had more than 2,800 viewers from Chicago and around the globe. In keeping with the mission of the Library, the virtual platform made the Library Awards experience accessible to all. Donations were welcome at all levels, with 187 first-time donors joining our community,” said Brenda Langstraat, President & CEO of the Chicago Public Library Foundation. “This year, we are translating and synthesizing what we have learned about virtual programming as well as in-person experiences. We are going to film the conversations with our honorees in front of a live audience of sponsors and then share the full broadcast with the world. This year’s theme is all about gratitude—gratitude to our librarians and staff; cultural, civic, and non-profit partners; and donors at all levels for empowering Chicagoans and our city’s 77 community areas.”

Gifts at all levels are welcome and support access to free resources, services, and lifelong learning opportunities for all at Chicago Public Library.

“The Library Foundation’s support was critical as we reimagined our service approach model to respond to our communities’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Library Foundation’s support was instrumental in our creative shift to expanded virtual programming,” said Library Commissioner Chris Brown. “The Library and the Library Foundation’s partnership will be more important than ever, as we continue to heal from the challenges of 2020 and as we evolve to support our patrons wherever they may be—at home, online, or in the branches.”

About the Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards Presentation

Produced by Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation, the Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards is an annual fundraising event that generates crucial support for responsive and lifelong learning initiatives accessible through the Library. Legendary Chicago newscaster Bill Kurtis serves as host. The evening’s highlight is always the intimate conversation with the Sandburg Award honoree led by best-selling author and National Public Radio host Scott Simon.

The Carl Sandburg Literary Award recognizes the work of the world’s most heralded authors. Prestigious past winners include Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume, Robert Caro, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Don DeLillo, Roger Ebert, Dave Eggers, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Nikki Giovanni, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Walter Isaacson, Erik Larson, Michael Lewis, David Mamet, George R. R. Martin, David McCullough, Larry McMurtry, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Sondheim, Mavis Staples, Scott Turow, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, Isabel Wilkerson, and Tom Wolfe.

Over 2,800 viewers experienced the 2020 Library Foundation Awards. The event raised $1.25 million in support of the Library Foundation’s investment priorities: Closing the Academic Opportunity Gap, Activating Connection & Creativity for All, and Bridging the Digital Divide.

Honorary Chairs

Governor JB & First Lady MK Pritzker

Mayor Lori Lightfoot & First Lady Amy Eshleman 


Denise & Adam Hoeflich

Vice Chairs

Wendy Berger

Joan & Bill Brodsky

Marcy & Greg Carlin

Jane & Dave Casper

Deirdre Drake

Linda Filler

Beth & Larry Gies

Michael Krasny

Susan Ross

Cari & Michael Sacks

Susan & Bob Wislow

Suzanne Yoon

For media inquiries, please contact Brenda Langstraat at