Book of the Year
Book of the Year

Congratulations to the 2020 Book of the Year Awards Winners

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Traditional Fiction

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is a beautiful and gothic mosaic of Odessa, Texas, one where the writing soars, and the story places a fierce legal and moral light on sex and gender equity. This is a special book that started off as compelling as any I’ve ever read, and got better by the page.

~Judge: Devin Murphy
From Miniskirt to Hijab

Traditional Nonfiction

From Miniskirt to Hijab by Jacqueline Saper

Jacqueline Saper has given us a boots-on-the-ground account of the political and cultural upheaval caused by the 1979 Iranian Revolution...An important and courageous book, Saper’s story leaves the reader deeply moved and incredulous, but at the same time hopeful and in awe of the author’s ability to cope and ultimately thrive.

~Judges: Angalia Bianca & Linda Beckstrom
Still Come Home

Indie Fiction

Still Come Home by Katey Schultz

In rich and evocative prose, Katey Schultz masterfully intertwines the fates of three disparate, shattered characters... Schultz takes us on a luminous and enthralling journey deep into the human condition.

~Judge: Russell Fee
From Inspiration to Activism

Indie Nonfiction

From Inspiration to Activism by Mary Lang Sollinger

Mary Lang Sollinger offers a rare glimpse into the fascinating world of political fundraising in her highly personal, engaging book...well-crafted, well-paced...that describes how she was inspired to make a difference in the world.

~Judge: Tammy Letherer
Honorable Mention

Honorable Mention for Traditional Fiction

The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah



Driving in Cars with Homeless Men by Kate Wisel



The River at Night by Kevin Huizenga



CLICK HERE to save your spot at the Zoom ceremony to honor the winners on January 16, 2021.

This is a free event but you must register, as space is limited.

Jennifer Brown Banks

Spirit Award

Jennifer Brown Banks 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 has done beyond her extensive publishing accomplishments: she was a founding organizer of the Chicago Writers Association and a longtime member of our Board of Directors; she is the 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, we are thrilled to recognize our dear friend Jennifer Brown Banks as the recipient of this year's Spirit Award.

Submissions to Chicago Writers Association's Book of the Year Awards are closed and will open again on June 1st

Past Winners of the Book of the Year Awards


Traditional Fiction: Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy

Traditional Non-Fiction: In Deep: How I survived Gangs, Heroin, and Prison to Become a Chicago Violence Interrupter by Angalia Bianca, with Linda Beckstrom

Indie Fiction: A Dangerous Identity by Russell Fee

Indie Non-Fiction: The Buddha at My Table by Tammy Letherer

Spirit Award: Bill Turck & Kerri Kendall


Traditional Fiction: Poison Girls by Cheryl L. Reed

Indie Fiction: Chuckerman Makes a Movie by Francie Arenson Dickman

Traditional Nonfiction: Tinker to Evers to Chance by David Rapp

Indie Nonfiction: Redlined: A Memoir of Race, Change and Fractured Community in 1960s Chicago by Linda Gartz

Spirit Award: George Rawlinson, author, publisher, Chicago Writers Association Board of Directors


Traditional Fiction: The Virginity of Famous Men by Christine Sneed

Indie Fiction: out the door! by M.L. Collins

Traditional Nonfiction: Algren: A Life by Mary Wisniewski

Indie Nonfiction: Of This Much I’m Sure by Nadine Kenney Johnstone

Spirit Award: Suzy Takacs, owner of The Book Cellar and supporter of Chicago writers and the literary community


Traditional Fiction: The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

Non-Traditional Fiction: A Bitter Pill to Swallow by Tiffany Gholar

Traditional Nonfiction: The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America by Ethan Michaeli

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: Hugh Hefner’s First Funeral and Other True Tales of Love and Death in Chicago by Pat Colander

Spirit Award: Donald G. Evans, founder and executive director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame


Traditional Fiction: Old Heart: A Novel by Peter Ferry

Non-Traditional Fiction: The Wet Nose of Danger by James Finn Garner

Traditional Nonfiction: Empire of Deception: The Incredible Story of a Master Swindler Who Seduced a City and Captivated the Nation by Dean Jobb

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: a different kind of same by Kelley Clink

Lifetime Achievement Award: Karen Thomson, founder and director of Literature for All of Us


Traditional Fiction: The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

Non-Traditional Fiction: Carpe Diem, Illinois (A Leo Townsend novel) by Kristin A. Oakley

Traditional Nonfiction: Meaty by Samantha Irby

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: Famous Ski Hills in Wisconsin by Scott Jacobs


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 Nonfiction: We Hope You Like This Song by Bree Housley

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: Any Road Will Take You There by David W. Berner


Traditional Fiction: The Temple of Air by Patricia Ann McNair

Non-Traditional Fiction: Coming Out Can Be Murder by Renee James

Traditional Nonfiction: Whiskey Breakfast: My Swedish Family, My American Life by Richard C. Lindberg

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back by Kelly Farley


Traditional Fiction: Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry by Christine Sneed

Non-Traditional Fiction: Honk Honk, My Darling: A Rex Koko Private Clown Mystery by James Finn Garner

Traditional Nonfiction: Three Wishes: A True Story of Good Friends, Crushing Heartbreak, and Astonishing Luck on our Way to Love and Motherhood by Pamela Ferdinand, Carey Goldberg and Beth Jones

Non-Traditional Nonfiction: Giants in the Park: A Guide to Portrait Statues in Chicago’s Lincoln Park by Krista August

Spirit Award Past Winners


Bill Turck & Kerri Kendall, talk-radio show hosts bringing celebrity guests and up and coming artists and writers, helpful how-to’s, and more from around the world.


George Rawlinson, longtime CWA board member, author, publisher, and tireless advocate for Chicago and its rich literary tradition; generous supporter of our writing community; inspiration to all who have been touched by his warmth and kindness and generous, loving spirit.


Suzy Takacs, owner of The Book Cellar and tireless advocate for Chicago literature and the people who create it.


Donald G. Evans, founder and executive director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame


Karen Thomson (Lifetime Achievement Award), founder and director of Literature for All of Us

Chicago Writers Association