American Writers Museum Brings Writers and Supporters Together In-Person for OnWord 2021 Fundraiser

Click here for OnWord 2021 images

The American Writers Museum (AWM) held its annual benefit OnWord 2021, in-person for the first time since 2019 and raised $730,000 for the museum’s operations, including its youth education program. Host and award-winning author Rebecca Makkai exclaimed to guests at the opening of the August 31 event, “I am so thrilled to be here [and] to be with people.” The celebratory evening honored the AWM founder, writers of the past with readings performed by artists from the Lookingglass Theatre Company, writers of the present with special appearances from novelists, poets, teachers, and more, and writers of the future with the winners of the AWM’s student writing competition.

“After facing over a year of uncertainty, we were excited to be able to safely gather our vaccinated friends and supporters to celebrate our perseverance and success, while providing an online opportunity for those who were not able to attend the evening festivities in person,” said John W. Estey, Chair of the AWM Board of Trustees and 2021 Event Co-Chair.

Noelle Velasco and Sonal Shukla, AWM Education staff, presented the award winners for the second annual OnWord writing competition. This year, students were asked how they would use writing to create change they want to see in the world. “We had over 200 schools from 35 different states sign up to participate [and] from those classrooms we had 109 finalists from 20 states,” said Velasco. Shukla explained, “From this amazing selection of young talent we selected six winners, two from each group of elementary, middle and high school. All told, we awarded $10,000 in prize money and excited hundreds of students to pursue their passions.” The high school winners are Adina Tanner, Yeshiva University High School for Girls, NY and Katie Liske, Marian High School, NE. The middle school winners are Taskin Arisha, Castle Hill Middle School, NY and Aisling Panjwani, Skinner North Classical School, IL. Panjwani accepted the award in-person for her poem about making a difference in global warming. The elementary school winners are Catherine Huang, Collegewood Elementary School, CA and Chloe Truong, Norwood Park School, IL.

An Inspiration Award was presented by poet Jenny Xie virtually to her 10th grade English and Creative Writing teacher Suezette Given, who accepted her award in-person from Makkai. Xie is one of 31 writers featured in the museum’s My America exhibit who delve into questions about writing influences, being multilingual, community, family, and what it means to be American.

A forthcoming exhibit entitled Dark Testament: A Century of Black Writers on Justice was introduced by AWM President Carey Cranston and Harvard scholar Keidrick Roy, leader of the initiative set to launch in 2022 that will cover a century of African American writers, musicians, and activists from the Civil War in the 1860s through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Estey presented the final award of the evening, the Cultural and Civic Leadership Award to AWM founder Malcolm O’Hagan who he said “is a force and because of him something amazing happened in [Chicago], a brand new important cultural institution was created from nothing.” Videos from several acclaimed writers about Malcolm’s contribution to this country’s cultural and civic landscape were played including one from Tayari Jones who remarked, “We are honoring him because as we honor him we honor the community he has built and the AWM is a living breathing place where people get to come and interact with writers.”

About American Writers Museum

The American Writers Museum is the first museum of its kind in the United States. The mission of the American Writers Museum is to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, and our daily lives. The museum is located at 180 N. Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60601, and offers something for every age group including permanent exhibits and special galleries highlighting America’s favorite works and the authors behind them. Tickets to the museum are $14 for adults, $9 for seniors, students, and teachers. Free for members and children ages 12 and under. To inquire about discounted rates for groups of 10 or more, including adults, student travel groups, and University students, visit or call 312-374-8770. Museum hours are Thursday – Monday 10 AM – 5 PM. For more information visit or call 312-374-8790.

Contact: Karie McGahan, Director of Marketing

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