2020 Library Foundation Awards

Celebrate Great Stories In a Year Full of Plot Twists

The Chicago Public Library Foundation Board of Directors cordially invites all library supporters to join us on December 9, 2020, for our first-ever virtual celebration in honor of this year’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award, 21st Century Award, and Inaugural Civic Award Honorees.

All are welcome to join in our virtual celebration. No ticket is required and all gifts are welcome.

Register now to let us know and we’ll see you there!


Isabel Wilkerson
Carl Sandburg Literary Award
This is Isabel Wilkerson’s year, and rightly so. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, Wilkerson’s thoughtful, lyrical, and deeply-researched body of work provides insights into America’s history and the divides that plague us today—and opens new possibilities for moving forward. Her new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, is a New York Times bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club pick. The New York Times hails Caste as “an instant American classic and the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far.”

The Library Foundation will present the coveted Carl Sandburg Literary Award to an author whose work was also featured as part of the Library’s city-wide One Book, One Chicago program: Wilkerson’s debut book, The Warmth of Other Suns, was the 2013/14 pick. It went on to win the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize, and was shortlisted for both the Pen-Galbraith Literary Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

 width=Nate Marshall
21st Century Award

A fixture in Chicago’s literary scene, and with his star rising world-wide, Nate Marshall is an author, poet, playwright, performer, educator, and rapper. Born and raised on the South Side, he is also the proud grandson of a Chicago Public Library librarian who he recalls always “put books in my hands.” His first book, Wild Hundreds, was the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s Poetry Book of the Year and received The Great Lakes College Association’s New Writer Award. The Chicago Tribune calls his new book, FINNA, “full of precision and exuberance, elegance and rollicking good humor.”

Among his many roles, Marshall is an assistant professor of English at Colorado College and an editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. He co-wrote the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks with Dr. Eve L. Ewing, the Library Foundation’s 21st Century Award winner in 2019, with whom he also co-directs Crescendo Literary, a partnership that develops community-engaged arts events and educational resources as a form of cultural organizing.

 width=Donna LaPietra 
Inaugural Civic Award 

The Civic Award celebrates the leaders whose work significantly contributes to the strength and vitality of our great city. There are few Chicagoans more deserving of this inaugural award. As one of Chicago’s most energetic and creative civic leaders, Donna LaPietra is in a class of her own when it comes to telling stories that capture the imagination.

A longtime television producer and Emmy Award winner, LaPietra was instrumental in the creation of Millennium Park as Chairman of the Millennium Park Foundation Board;  is active on the boards of several civic organizations, including the Library Foundation, Navy Pier, the Joffrey Ballet, Steppenwolf, Chicago Botanic Garden, and a number of women’s and auxiliary boards and committees. As the executive producer of Kurtis Productions, LaPietra has lent her creative expertise in pro bono work with a host of nonprofits. LaPietra also is an avid gardener and land conservationist, having created both a formal garden and natural prairie in the northern suburbs of Chicago that is featured in The Garden Conservancy Directory.

Each year, the Chicago Public Library Foundation honors the artists who bring great stories to life—who challenge us, inspire us, and help us see the world in ways we never knew possible. On Wednesday, December 9 at 6:30pm every Library lover is invited to join us as we host the Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards virtually for the first time ever.

Legendary Chicago newscaster Bill Kurtis will join us once again as our host, and the evening’s centerpiece will be an intimate conversation with the Sandburg Award honoree led by best-selling author and National Public Radio host Scott Simon.

BMO Harris Bank is the Presenting Sponsor of the event.

About the Carl Sandburg Literary Award
For more than 20 years, the Carl Sandburg Literary Award has recognized 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, and Tom Wolfe.

About the 21st Century Award
The 21st Century Award honors significant recent achievement in writing by a Chicago-based author. In presenting this award, the Foundation’s Directors hope to encourage the creation of new works and increase public awareness of the writer’s talents. Past winners of the 21st Century Award include Jeffery Renard Allen, Blue Balliett, Eula Biss, Elizabeth Crane, Rich Cohen, Dr. Eve L. Ewing, Amina Gautier, Sara Gruen, Aleksandar Hemon, Tracy Letts, Eric Charles May, Natalie Y. Moore, Nami Mun, Audrey Niffenegger, Erika L. Sanchez, Theresa Schwegel, Rebecca Skloot, Christine Sneed, Patrick Somerville, and Veronica Roth.

About the Inaugural Civic Award
The Chicago Public Library Foundation is proud to introduce the Civic Award, which celebrates the leaders whose work significantly contributes to the strength and vitality of our great city. Dynamic civic leader Donna LaPietra is the inaugural recipient of the Civic Award.

All contributions benefit lifelong learning at Chicago Public Library.
This fundraising event generates crucial support for responsive and innovative learning initiatives accessible through the Library’s 81 neighborhood branches. Sponsorship packages for virtual tables are currently available; contact Rachael Everson at reverson@cplfoundation.org for more information.

For media inquiries, please contact Brenda Langstraat at blangstraat@cplfoundation.org

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million raised in 2018


guests in 2018


guest authors with ties to Chicago


honorees since 2000