Authors Toni Morrison and Eula Biss were honored by the Chicago Public Library Foundation and Chicago Public Library October 20 during the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum.
Morrison, who received the coveted Sandburg Award honoring a significant work or body of work that has enhanced the public's awareness of the written word, talked about her writing in a conversation with Chicago's Oprah Winfrey. Calling her "my favorite author of all time—living or dead," Winfrey told the audience that Morrison's books have been selected four times as her book club selection.
"Writing makes a big difference in the life of the mind," said Morrison, who is recognized as one of the most influential writers in American literary history.
The first African-American woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, Morrison is also the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize as well as a number of other literary awards. "Every one of them seemed right," Morrison explained. "The books, the work are worth these prizes."
Biss received the 21st Century Award honoring significant recent achievement in writing by an author with ties to Chicago. She is the author of The Balloonists and Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays, which was named a Chicago Time Out best book of 2009 and received a National Book Critics Circle Award.
"I put this honor on the pile of debt that I owe public libraries in the country over the past 15 years," Biss said. "Public libraries have always been so essential in my life." She called public libraries a sanctuary, a place where she would escape with her children when it was rainy, too cold, or too hot to play outside.
A video of libraries throughout the city honoring outgoing Mayor Richard Daley preceded his remarks. Daley is created with spearheading 54 new or renovated libraries over 21 years. "Since 1984, the Foundation has been an important partner for children contributing $35 million in private support," he noted.
"Our vision is to have the finest library system in the country and the world," he said. "Libraries are essential to the picture of our city. Libraries are the spirit of Chicago."
Dinner Committee Co-Chair Cheryl Mayberry McKissack reported that the foundation has raised more than $1.1 million this year.