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The four winners of the Chicago Writers Association’s 3rd Annual Book of the Year Awards on their face are as different as can be. A novel written by 30 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,” said Randy Richardson, CWA President. “They are all very real and moving stories filled with all the joys and pains that come with ordinary and sometimes extraordinary circumstances.”

The winning books are:

•Traditional Fiction: “Good Kings Bad Kings” by Susan Nussbaum
•Non-Traditional Fiction: “30 Days to Empathy” by The 31 and Jay C. Rehak (Editor)
•Traditional Non-Fiction: “We Hope You Like This Song” by Bree Housley
•Non-Traditional Non-Fiction: “Any Road Will Take You There” by David W. Berner

The awards will be presented at 7 p.m. Jan. 18 at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., in Chicago’s Lincoln Square. At the event, which is free and open to the public, the authors will read from their award-winning books and have copies available for purchase and signing.

The finalist judges were three of last year’s winning authors – Patricia Ann McNair (“The Temple of Air”), Renee James (“Coming Out Can Be Murder”) and Richard C. Lindberg (“Whiskey Breakfast”) – and special guest judge David Katzman (“A Greater Monster”).

“I congratulate all of the winners, and indeed all of the twelve finalists,” said Book Awards Chair Tori Collins. “I thank the judges for their time and thoughtful selections. They had to make some very tough choices.”

McNair, in choosing Nussbaum’s already award-winning “Good Kings Bad Kings” (the book won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction), wrote: “There is heartbreak in these stories, this story, but there is hope, grace, and transcendence as well.”

In selecting the Kerouac-inspired memoir “Any Road Will Take You There” as the best in the non-traditional non-fiction category, Katzman called it “a thoughtful, touching, and at times heartbreaking account of the struggles of fatherhood, career, marriage, and the death of a parent.”

James, the judge in the non-traditional fiction category, found “30 Days to Empathy” to be “an incredible educational accomplishment” whose 30 authors collectively “paint a picture of high school student life that is gritty and hopeful and very human.”

In selecting “We Hope You Like This Song” as winner of the traditional nonfiction category, Lindberg called it a “touching homage” to the author’s childhood friend that “draws inspiration through humor, reflection, and hope.”

The awards, divided into four categories (traditionally and non-traditionally published fiction and non-fiction), were open to books published between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013 and authored by Chicago area authors or CWA members. (Non-traditional is defined as self- and print-on-demand published.)

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