I’ve had the pleasure of emceeing the first two, both of which, despite being held on Saturday nights in the cold of winter, drew crowds that filled just about every nook and cranny of that wonderfully independent bookstore, filling it with the warmth of a literary community coming together to support some of its best talents.
This time I’ll be sitting—or standing—with the rest of that community as I pass on the emcee duties to CWA’s new president, Tori Collins, who chaired this year’s Book Awards Committee.
This year’s winning books on their face are as different as can be. A novel written by thirty high school students at Whitney Young High School. A debut novel authored by a Chicago playwright and disabilities-rights activist. A memoir inspired by the death of a childhood best friend. A Jack Kerouac-inspired road trip about the generational bonds of fathers and sons.
The one common thread that seems to run through all of the books chosen this year is that each, in its own unique way, draws on the power of the human spirit. They are all very real and moving stories filled with all the joys and pains that come with ordinary and sometimes extraordinary circumstances.
There is Susan Nussbaum’s already award-winning Good Kings Bad Kings (the book won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction), of which finalist judge Patricia Ann McNair (The Temple of Air, a 2012 CWA Book Award winner) wrote: “There is heartbreak in these stories, this story, but there is hope, grace, and transcendence as well.”
There is 30 Days to Empathy, a novel written by thirty students at Whitney Young High School and edited by Jay C. Rehak, which finalist judge Renee James (Coming Out Can Be Murder, a 2012 CWA Book Award winner) described as “an incredible educational accomplishment” that paints a picture of high school student life that is “gritty and hopeful and very human.”
There is Bree Housley’s moving memoir We Hope You Like This Song, which finalist judge Richard C. Lindberg (Whiskey Breakfast, a 2012 CWA Book Award winner) called a “touching homage” to the author’s childhood friend that “draws inspiration through humor, reflection, and hope.”
And there’s David Berner’s Kerouac-inspired memoir Any Road Will Take You There, which finalist Judge David Katzman (A Greater Monster) called “a thoughtful, touching, and at times heartbreaking account of the struggles of fatherhood, career, marriage, and the death of a parent.”
The goal of these awards is to bring attention to those Chicago books that are truly deserving and may otherwise be overlooked. Divided into four categories (traditionally and nontraditionally published fiction and nonfiction), the awards were open to books published between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, and authored by Chicago-area authors or CWA members. (Nontraditional is defined as self- and print-on-demand published.)
All are invited to join us in the warmth of The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., Chicago, for this free event that will feature the authors reading from their award-winning books. Copies of all books will be available for purchase and signing.
Randy Richardson is an attorney and award-winning journalist and past president of Chicago Writers Association.