Since 2015 CWA has bestowed the Spirit Award to a worthy member of Chicago’s writing community. The honor is traditionally presented during our annual Book of the Year Awards by CWA President Randy Richardson. Until this year’s ceremony the awards were presented live at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. Due to the pandemic, like everything else, the ceremony, which took place in January 2021, went virtual via Zoom. Technical difficulties kept our 2020 Spirit Award winner, Jennifer Brown Banks, from having her moment in the spotlight. When we later heard the acceptance speech that Jennifer was going to give we decided it needed to be shared with everyone. 

Intro from CWA President Randy Richardson:

Jennifer Brown Banks defines the Spirit Award which is an acrostic of the six letters in SPIRIT: Service, Passion, Inspiration, Reach, Ingenuity and Tireless Advocacy. These are all things that define Jennifer Brown Banks. She has left an impressive mark as a freelance writer, columnist, poet and blogger. But she is so much more than the words she writes. Look at all she's done beyond her extensive publishing accomplishments: 

  • Founding organizer of CWA and a longtime member of our Board of Directors 

  • Founder and president of Poets United to Advance the Arts, a community-based arts organization on the South Side

  • ​​​​​​And her reach extends beyond Chicago as she provides support for writers all over the world through her award-winning Pen & Prosper blog.

For her many years of dedicated service to CWA and to Chicago's writing community, I am thrilled to recognize my dear friend Jennifer Brown Banks as the recipient of this year's Spirit Award.

Jennifer's acceptance speech:

Thank you for choosing me for this prestigious honor, for recognizing my work in the literary community. I am humbled and grateful.

This award holds a special significance for me. As a former board member for 10 years, I am intimately aware of the integrity, time and painstaking effort that goes into any policy, program or decision rendered by this group. In my eyes an endorsement from Randy is the equivalent of an Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club recommendation.

My journey as a writer began decades ago and CWA has afforded me great resources and support along the way. Like many of you I’ve encountered my share of detours on the road to success. But in the interim I have discovered that success is not solely defined by how many followers we have in our social media networks, but how we impact others along the way; how we use our individual gifts to add value to the writing community and our audiences: how we use our platforms to speak on important issues and speak for those without a voice; how we strive to be a beacon in a sometimes dark world and, in so doing, we educate, enrich and empower others. Which makes me very proud to be a writer and proud to share this journey with you.

A special thanks to my mom Arabella, who I lost last year, for her inspiration and influence, to the CWA Board for their long-time support, and to God for the gift of creativity.

I pray that 2021 will be a year of renewal and reward for each of us!

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