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The health and safety of our community are our top priority. All guests at the live filming were required to present proof of vaccination and wear masks.

Watch opening remarks from the Library & the Library Foundation chairs and Mayor Lori Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman here.

Gratitude. For every Library champion who makes it possible to reach Chicagoans wherever they may be—at home, online, or in the branches. For the storytellers, the creators, and the educators who help us imagine new possibilities. Gratitude for you.

On November 9 at 6:00 p.m. CST, join thousands of Library lovers across Chicago and the world to celebrate the 2021 Chicago Public Library Foundation Awards and to honor Theaster Gates, J. Nicole Brooks, and Amy Tan. The broadcast will feature conversations with our honorees filmed in front of a live audience of sponsors, whose support make this event accessible to all. Learn more about sponsorship levels.

 Legendary Chicago newscaster Bill Kurtis will host, and the evening’s centerpiece will be an intimate conversation between Sandburg Award honoree Amy Tan and NPR Saturday host Scott Simon.

Everyone is welcome! No registration or ticket is required to view the broadcast. Gifts at all levels support access to free resources, programs, and lifelong learning opportunities for all at Chicago Public Library.

Do you want to receive exclusive news and regular updates about the Library Foundation Awards? Sign up for our free monthly newsletter!

Theaster Gates
Arts Award

Theaster Gates lives and works in Chicago. Gates creates works that engage with space theory and land development, sculpture, and performance. Known for his recirculation of art-world capital, Gates creates work that focuses on the possibility of the “life within things.” His work contends with the notion of Black space as a formal exercise—one defined by collective desire, artistic, agency, and the tactics of a pragmatist. In 2010, Gates created the Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit platform for art, cultural development, and neighborhood transformation that supports artists and strengthens communities through free arts programming and innovative cultural amenities on Chicago’s South Side.

Gates has exhibited and performed at Tate Liverpool, UK (2020); Haus de Kunst, Munich (2020); Walker At Centre, Minneapolis (2019); Palais de Tokyo Paris, France (2019); Sprengel Museum Hannover, Germany (2018); Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland (2018); National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA (2017); Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (2016); Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy (2016); Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2013); Punta della Dogana, Venice, Italy (2013); and dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012). In 2020, Gates received the Crystal Award for his leadership in creating sustainable communities. He was the winner of the Artes Mundi 6 prize and a recipient of the Légion d'Honneur in 2017. He was awarded the Nasher Prize for Sculpture 2018, as well as the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. Gates is a professor at the University of Chicago in the Department of Visual Arts and serves as the Senior Advisor for Cultural Innovation and Advisor to the Dean at the Harris School of Public Policy.

J. Nicole Brooks
21st Century Award

J. Nicole Brooks is an actor, author, director, educator, poet, and social justice warrior based in Chicago. As a theatre artist, Brooks is an Ensemble Member and Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at the Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company. Other artistic affiliations include artistic membership at Collaboration and Sideshow Theatre Company. As a playwright, Brooks has created original works including Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have EatenFedra: Queen of HaitiHeLa, and the award winning Her Honor Jane Byrne. Upcoming writing projects and commissions include an adaptation of fellow 21st century award honoree, Dr. Eve L. Ewing’s book of poetry 1919 for Steppenwolf Theatre, Rainbow Beach for Chicago Children’s Choir, a science play for Manhattan Theatre Club and various audio and screenplays.  

Brooks is also an award-winning actor appearing in theatrical productions at Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass, Court Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and Theatre at Boston Court. Recent television credits include guest recurring roles on the cult-favorite South Side (Comedy Central, HBO Max), The Chi (Showtime), Chicago Fire (NBC, Hulu) and the critically acclaimed chapter four of Fargo (FX Network) starring opposite Chris Rock. Brooks will also appear in the highly anticipated horror film Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta and produced by Jordan Peele.

Amy Tan
Carl Sandburg Literary Award

Born in the U.S. to immigrant parents from China, Amy Tan rejected her mother’s expectations that she become a doctor and concert pianist. Instead, she became one of the greatest fiction writers of our time. Her novels are 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—all New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of two children’s books, The Moon Lady, and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat, and numerous articles for magazines including The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and National Geographic, as well as a short story titled “Rules for Virgins” published in e-book format (Byliner Original). Her work has been translated into 35 languages, from Spanish, French, and Finnish to Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew. She has written a memoir, The Opposite of Fate, and a book about writing titled Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir. Amy Tan is the subject of a documentary directed by James Redford titled Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir, which debuted at Sundance in January 2021.

Featured Friendraisers

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Honorary Chairs

Mayor Lori Lightfoot & First Lady Amy Eshleman
Governor JB Pritzker & First Lady MK Pritzker


Denise & Adam Hoeflich 


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
Robin Loewenberg Tebbe & Mark Tebbe
Susan & Bob Wislow
Luke Molloy & Suzanne Yoon 
Peng Zhao & Cherry Chen

Sponsors as of: November 8, 2021

Patron Sponsors

Wendy A. Berger, Esther K. Choy & Bernhard Krieg, Comcast, Monique & Thomas Demery, Terrance Diamond, Angela & Geoffrey Euston, Exelon, Jennifer Friedes & Steven Florsheim, Bette Cerf Hill & Bruce Sagan, ITW, Jones Day, KPMG LLP, Kamala & Jose Martinez, McKinsey & Company, TAWANI Foundation, Wintrust

Premier Supporters

The Ballis Family Charitable Fund, Carol Lavin Bernick, Rose & Bob Fealy, Carol & Larry Levy, Trisha Mowbray, Sheila Owens, Linda Johnson Rice, Reynolds Family Foundation, Segal Family Foundation, Priya & Chris Valenti

Premier Individual Sponsors

AT&T Illinois, Rob Cheifetz & Sandy Raitt, Mary A. Dempsey, Efroymson Family Fund, Mark Ferguson, Graham Grady, Francia Harrington & Vernon Broders, Ingram, Koch Family Foundation, Cheryl Mayberry McKissack & Eric McKissack, Linda & Dennis Myers, Brenda Langstraat & Ve Bui, Jeanette Thornton-Schwab & Peter Schwab

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