Senator John Heinz


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The Heinz Awards


August 2, 2004

Chicago Tribune

August Wilson wins Tribune Literary Prize

August Wilson, whose cycle of dramas chronicling black life in the United States during the 20th Century is one of the crowning achievements of the American stage, has been awarded the 2004 Chicago Tribune Literary Prize.

The Tribune announced Monday that the Pittsburgh-born Wilson, 59, is being honored for a lifetime of literary achievement.

"August Wilson's work has shown him to be not only one of the luminaries of American playwriting, but one of the great thinkers of our time," said Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski. "His tremendous gift, showcased by the stories he writes for the stage, is in his exploration of some of the most important questions of our day. He is also a wonderful speaker, and I think we are all in for a great treat when he comes to Chicago to accept the award."

Wilson, who now lives in Seattle, began his cycle of plays with "Jitney," set in a Pittsburgh taxi station of the 1970s and first produced in 1982. Eight others, each focusing on a different decade, have followed, including "Gem of the Ocean," which had its world premiere in Chicago in 2003 and will be staged in September at the Boston University Theatre by the Huntington Theatre Company.

Two of Wilson's plays -- "Fences" (1986) and "The Piano Lesson" (1990) -- have won Pulitzer Prizes. The 10th and final installment, "Radio Golf," set in the 1990s, is to open at Yale Repertory Theatre next April.

Also Monday, the Tribune announced the winners of the 2004 Heartland prizes. Ward Just, 68, won the prize for fiction for his novel of class tensions in Chicago and its northern suburbs in the 1950s, "An Unfinished Season" (Houghton Mifflin).

Just, who was born in Michigan City, Ind., and grew up in Waukegan, is the author of 13 other novels. "An Unfinished Season," which tells of a 19-year-old boy coming of age in a morally confusing world, is one of three novels Just has written about Chicago and its region, the others being "A Family Trust" (1978) and "Jack Gance" (1989).

Ann Patchett, 40, won the 2004 Heartland Prize for non-fiction for "Truth & Beauty: A Friendship" (HarperCollins), an often wrenching account of her two-decades-long relationship with the gifted but haunted writer Lucy Grealy. Patchett, a Nashville-based novelist known for the elegance of her fiction, including the PEN/Faulkner award-winning "Bel Canto" (2001), pulls no punches in recounting the joys and sorrows of the friendship. Grealy turned the psychic and physical pain of her surgically reconstructed face into a 1994 critically praised memoir, "Autobiography of a Face," but, as Patchett relates, she battled demons of addiction and despair and died in 2002 at age 39.

Wilson, Just and Patchett will receive their awards and speak Nov. 7 as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Wilson will deliver the Chicago Tribune Lecture on the Armour Stage at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., at 10 a.m., while Just and Patchett will speak on the same stage at 1 p.m. Tickets for each event are $15 with all proceeds going to Chicago Tribune Charities and its literacy efforts.

Later this year, the Tribune will name the winners of the Nelson Algren Awards, which go to American writers for previously unpublished works of short fiction.

On July 16, the Tribune announced that Blue Balliett, a native New Yorker who now lives in Chicago, was the winner of the 2004 Chicago Tribune Prize for Young Adult Fiction for her debut children's novel, "Chasing Vermeer" (Scholastic).

"It seems every kid I know has read `Chasing Vermeer' this summer," Lipinski said. "It's so rare that a single book can ignite the sort of passion in readers that this one has, but I saw the way people greeted Blue Balliett at the Tribune Printers Row Book Fair in June and it was quite amazing. There's a lot of electricity between that writer and her audience."

Balliett, a former teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, a setting in her novel, will receive her award and speak at 10 a.m. on Oct. 30 at the auditorium of the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., during the Children's Humanities Festival. Tickets are $5.

"With these awards we hope to celebrate great literary achievement, something very important in the history of Chicago and also a part of the Tribune's long history," Lipinski said. "In committing to these awards we also aspire to bring attention and support to a variety of local literacy efforts, in our belief that literacy and literary achievement are linked."
August Wilson wins Chicago Tribune Literary Prize