BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
OnWord! No surprise that the American Writers Museum would choose the cleverest name we have heard recently for a benefit—and with the happiest of endings, to boot: $730,000 raised.
Host Rebecca Makkai, author of the powerful and popular The Great Believers; artists from the Lookingglass Theatre Company performing works by favorite authors, novelists, poets, and teachers who made special appearances; and winners of student writing competitions kept the exciting evening’s plotline going.
John W. Estey, Chair of the AWM Board of Trustees and 2021 Event Co-Chair along with Jane Irwin, shares, “After facing over a year of uncertainty, we were excited to be able to safely gather our vaccinated friends and supporters to celebrate our perseverance and success, while providing an online opportunity for those who were not able to attend the evening festivities in person.” Estey presented the Cultural and Civic Leadership Award to AWM founder Malcolm O’Hagan, saying, “He is a force and because of him, something amazing happened in Chicago, a brand new important cultural institution was created from nothing.”
The first of its kind in the United States, the Museum’s mission is to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, and our daily lives. Located on Michigan Avenue, AWM offers something for every age group, including permanent exhibits and special galleries highlighting America’s favorite works and the authors behind them.
Several acclaimed writers sent videos created especially for the event toasting O’Hagan’s contribution to this country’s cultural and civic landscape including Tayari Jones who remarked, “We are honoring him because as we honor him, we honor the community he has built and AWM as a living, breathing place where people get to come and interact with writers.”
Noelle Velasco and Sonal Shukla, AWM Education staff members, presented the award winners for the second annual student writing competition. This year students were asked how they would use writing to create change they want to see in the world. Over 200 schools from 35 different states sign up to participate, with 109 finalists selected from 20 states.
Shukla explained, “From this amazing selection of young talent, we selected six winners, two from each group of elementary, middle, and high school. All told, we awarded $10,000 in prize money and excited hundreds of students to pursue their passions.”
The high school winners were New Yorker Adina Tanner and Katie Liske from Nebraska. The middle school winners were Taskin Arisha from New York and Aisling Panjwani from Skinner North Classical School in Chicago. Panjwani accepted the award in person for her poem about making a difference in climate change. The elementary school winners were Californian Catherine Huang and Chloe Truong from Norwood Park.
Poet Jenny Xie presented an inspiration award virtually to her 10th -grade English and creative writing teacher, Suezette Given, who accepted her award in person from Makkai. Xie is one of 31 writers featured in the My America exhibit, which delves into writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, and what it means to be American.
A forthcoming exhibit entitled Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice was introduced by AWM President Carey Cranston and Harvard scholar Keidrick Roy, leader of the initiative set to launch in 2022 that will cover a century of African American writers, musicians, and activists from the Civil War in the 1860s through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Museum hours are Thursday through Monday, 10 AM – 5 PM. For more information, visit americanwritersmuseum.org or call 312-374-8790.
Photo Credit: Kyle Flubacker Photography