Chicago Public Library Foundation Honors Tony Kushner, Rick Bayless and Shermann ‘Dill’ Thomas at Annual Awards Celebration

On Oct. 19, the Chicago Public Library Foundation (CPLF) celebrated the powerful ways stories can “nourish, connect, and inspire us to act” at their annual Awards Celebration. The event, which was filmed in front of a live audience of more than 400 supporters and streamed for free on YouTube, raised over $1.2 million for the foundation.

The awards celebrate the partnership between Chicago Public Library and the Library Foundation, which “invites donors to sustain and fuel free resources that meet the evolving needs of Chicagoans of all ages, including homework help, digital literacy support, and youth mentoring.”

Honored at the awards were acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and activist Tony Kushner, who received the 2022 Carl Sandburg Literary Award. The broadcast also included a centerpiece conversation with Kushner and best-selling author and NPR Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon.

Carl Sandburg Literary Award honoree Tony Kushner in conversation with NPR’s Scott Simon. Credit: Kyle Flubacker.

Hosted by the legendary newscaster Bill Kurtis, the evening also included an Arts Award for Top Chef, philanthropist and restauranteur Rick Bayless for “his culinary prowess as well as his innovative approach to immersive, food-centric storytelling with plays like Cascabel and Recipe for Disaster.”

Arts Award honoree Rick Bayless giving remarks while accepting his award. Credit: Kyle Flubacker.

Urban historian, cultural worker and TikTok sensation Shermann “Dilla” Thomas received the 21st Century Award, which honors significant achievements by a creator with ties to Chicago. This was the first time the award went to a digital artist.

21st Century Award honoree Shermann “Dilla” Thomas posing with his award. Credit: Kyle Flubacker. 

The evening uplifted voices from within the 81 Chicago Library Branches, including the Library’s Summer Maker-in-Residence Carolyn Kassnoff and Melody Farmer, a 20-year Teacher in the Library who has been with the program since the beginning.

Highlights include a surprise toast from Rick Bayless and U.S. CEO of BMO Financial Group Dave Casper, and remarks from civic and library leaders on the bold initiatives the Library has launched in recently years, including the newly announced 81 Club, which gives all Chicago Public School students access to a Library card. Special guests included authors J. Nicole Brooks, Eric Charles May, Peter Sagal, Scott Turow and more.

Rick Bayless, Bill Kurtis and Dave Casper. Credit: Kyle Flubacker. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, First Lady Amy Eshleman, Governor JB Pritzker and First Lady MK Pritzker served as Honorary Chairs of the evening. Francia E. Harrington and Andrés Ordóñez were event Co-Chairs, and Donna LaPietra was the event producer.

The presenting sponsor was BMO Harris, and other sponsors included Exelon, Susan & Bob Wislow/Parkside Realty, Allstate Foundation, Pritzker Foundation, Northern Trust, US Cellular and more.

The CPLF supports access to free lifelong learning opportunities at Chicago Public Library branches by raising funds that empower Chicagoans year-round. Since 2000, they have raised over $21 million for library programs.

Students receive free homework help from the Teacher in the Library program. Credit: Jordan Balderas.

How to Help:

Contributions at every level to the Library Foundation Awards support free lifelong learning programs and resources for all at Chicago Public Library. There are various ways you can support their mission, including a monthly reoccurring gift, planned giving, shopping at their store, attending their events, and more.

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