Prominent writers with ties to the city were each seated at a different table at the 14th Annual Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Dinner on Oct. 23. Their mission was to engage in conversation with the guests from business, civic and cultural communities attending this event presented by the Chicago Public Library Foundation and the Chicago Public Library.
Among those selected for this honor were Stuart Dybek of Evanston, Susan Hahn of Winnetka, Cristina Henriquez of Hinsdale and Michael Silverstein of Winnetka. We spoke with them prior to the event.
Dybek is the author of “The Coast of Chicago,” which was a Chicago Public Library One Book, One Chicago selection in 2004. He is also a poet and the author of “Childhood and Other Neighborhoods,” a short story collection.
“I’ve been a regular there for years,” Dybek said of his participation in the annual dinner. “Anytime I’m asked, I’m flattered to be included. Libraries are such an important part of a democratic society.”
Each author was requested to bring 10 books to the event. Dybek chose “The Coast of Chicago.”
He noted that his tablemates are always eager to engage in conversation. “In our society, we’re all so busy that to get a chance to spend a literary evening is an all-around treat. Everybody loves to read and reading is often this private activity, like writing is. There’s a good buzz in the room.”
Undoubtedly, attendees will want to hear about Dybek’s latest work. He has two books of short stories scheduled for publication in the spring, “Ecstatic Cahoots” and “Paper Lantern.” Dybek described them as “love stories in the broadest sense of the word — about different kinds of relationships.”
Susan Hahn has written nine books of poetry, two produced plays and the novel, “The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter,” which was published last year. She is the first Writer-In-Residence named by Oak Park’s Ernest Hemingway Foundation.
“I am delighted to be a participant,” Hahn said. “I will answer any question anyone wants to ask of me about being a writer or being a person in the world.”
Hahn contributed copies of her novel. “It’s my new baby,” she explained. “I always thought of myself as a poet.”
A Guggenheim Fellowship in 2004 offered Hahn the opportunity to take a year off from work. “I wrote three books of poems — which is kind of unheard of,” she related. “Then I had one month left before I had to go back to work and I couldn’t waste that month staring at a wall.”
Instead, she used it to create a short story based on a poem she was having trouble finishing. After the story—her first prose—was published, she wrote other short stories and then expanded them into that first novel, “The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter.”
Hahn is hard at work on her second novel.
Cristina Henriquez is the author of “The World in Half” and “Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories,” a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. Her latest work, “The Book of Unknown Americans” is due out in June. Henriquez brought 10 advance copies of that book to the event.
“Hopefully, we can talk a little bit about that because that’s the thing that is on my mind at the moment,” Henriquez said. “It’s about a group of immigrants who all live in one apartment building in Delaware but it’s also a love story. It was inspired by my father who came to the United States from Panama to go to college, in the ‘70s. He ended up staying here. He’s gone on to have a successful career and three kids. We’ve all gone on to do successful things. By all measures, he’s really contributed to the society.”
Yet, Henriquez realized, nobody had ever asked him about his story. So she decided to tell it. The book is fiction but Henriquez said it was her way of relating, “the other side of the immigrant experience here.”
Michael Silverstein is the author of “Trading Up: The New American Luxury,” “Treasure Hunt: Inside the Mind of the New Consumer,” “Women Want More: How to Capture Your Share of the World’s Largest Fastest-Growing Market” and “The Ten Trillion Dollar Prize: Captivating the Newly Affluent in China and India.”
Silverstein, a senior partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group, has done pro bono work for the Chicago Public Library Foundation. “I’ve been involved in that organization for over five years,” he said. “I think they make a fantastic contribution to Chicago.”
Silverstein brought copies of “The Ten Trillion Dollar Prize,” his latest book. “I’m going to tell them about the opportunities for American companies in China and India,” he said. “It’s a story of the consumer market in those countries and how it’s rapidly evolving.”