Our Cultural Community in Full Force
Wednesday, February 24, 2021
by Donald G. Evans
In a ceremony on Saturday, March 13, from 7-8 p.m., Sandra Cisneros is to be honored with the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame’s Fuller Award for lifetime achievement. It is CLHOF's highest honor for a living writer. Sandra joins an illustrious list of honorees that includes Gene Wolfe (2012), Harry Mark Petrakis (2014), Haki Madhubuti (2015), Rosellen Brown (2016), Angela Jackson (2018), Stuart Dybek (2018), Sara Paretsky (2019), and Sterling Plumpp (2019). Luis Alberto Urrea (Fall, 2021) and Reginald Gibbons (Fall, 2021) were selected last year, but will only be honored later this year, due to the health pandemic.
For the first time in the history of the award, the ceremony will be virtual. We will certainly miss all the energy and love present in places like the Newberry Library, Poetry Foundation, and the American Writers Museum, but we're working hard to maximize the advantages of a remote event. For one, Sandra does not need to travel to Chicago from Mexico, which makes this ceremony possible in the first place. For another, none of the guests have to travel to Chicago. This means that the ceremony opens itself up to the entire world, or at least as much of the world as is wired to the internet. Finally, there are no limitations on the number of guests--in the past, we've had to turn away some people that did not register before we reached capacity. That won't happen here.
It's exciting to think that a wide swatch of those people who've known Sandra as a friend, a mentor, a colleague, and an inspiration will be there to see and hear the lovely sentiments expressed throughout the evening. And that there will be lots of them.
The ceremony is free and open to all, but advance registration is required.
The evening will open with a short video created by the wonderful documentary filmmaker Ray Santisteban. Speakers Richard Bray, Sonia Saldivar-Hull, Norma Alarcón, and Jorge Valdivia will each offer short tributes that offer insight into Sandra's life and work. After Sandra's acceptance speech, Donna Seaman will conduct a short interview that allows or at least a couple of audience questions.
In addition to the Zoom ceremony, we will produce a commemorative booklet to be made available to all guests.
Sandra's accomplishments extend way, way beyond the Chicago borders. But it was here where she started her life and her work, here where she gained traction as a poet, here where she started to write the vignettes that would become one of the most beloved novels ever, and here where her influence remains palpatable.
The Fuller Award is meant to be a community celebration, and in Chicago our cultural community encompasses not only the artists and the art consumers, but many, many vital organizations toiling, day in and day out, to help elevate the quality of our lives. You'll see here in our poster, and elsewhere around the internet, the organizations that chose to be a part of this celebration. It speaks volumes about Sandra and our city that these organizations are working to make this an even better, more spectacular occasion. Look at the list. Co-presenters AWM, National Museum of Mexican Art, and Chicago Public Library constitute a trio of this country's finest cultural institutions. Literature for All of Us, 826CHI, and Open Books do absolutely spectacular, thoughtful work with young people. The Chicago History Museum is not only a jewel of a place, but such an important repository of our city's past. The Chicago Poetry Center continues, year after year, to expand the boundaries of poets and their audiences. StoryStudio Chicago, Make Literary Productions, and the Guild Literary Complex epitomize Chicago's fierce advocacy of diverse and accessible literature and literary opportunites. The DePaul University English Department, Loyola University's Women Studies/Gender Studies and its Creative Writing departments represent some of our finest academic programs in a city known for the high caliber of its college systems. Greater Reach Consulting and Kaye Publicity relentlessly work on behalf of authors and nonprofit organizations to maximize the results from their efforts and talents. Josephinum Academy of the Sacred Hearts is a school dedicated and determined to offer students a chance to succeed. The Cliff Dwellers, a beautiful, nobel prive club and one of CLHOF's earliest supporters, persistently showcases Chicago art and literature. And Women & Children First is every reason you ever needed to support indepdent bookstores.
Chicago, of course, does not do it alone, so it's appropriate that others from around the country have joined as partners. The great Sarabande Books, as well as Vintage & Anchor Books have, for a very long time, made sure authors like Sandra find an audience and that audiences find authors like Sandra. Finally, the Hawkins Project, much like our own Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, empowers bold ideas and projects and the people who do them.
This is what a community looks like in an idealized form. When we look around the audience on March 13, we will see so many people that make us proud to live in this city and inspire us to do our best work. These are not empty platitudes. I've worked with many of the indiviudals and organizations listed as partners, and am continuously in awe that they accomplish all they do. A bunch of smart, generous, concerned people. And that's as it should be on a night when we proudly honor a writer who has meant and continues to mean so much to us as a city, and is a shining example of the reasons we all keep working on behalf stories and their creators.
Donald G. Evans is the Founding Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. He is the author of a novel and short story collection, and editor of an anthology. His personal blog often explores Chicago literature, including a recent post about the Chicago writers of the WPA. He currently is leading a seminar on the subject at the Newberry Library.