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Isabel Allende to receive Chicago Public Library Carl Sandburg award

Isabel Allende | Lori Barrphoto

Isabel Allende | Lori Barra photo

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

Author Isabel Allende grew up in her grandfather’s house where a radio, much less a television, was not allowed. Instead, her formative years in Chile were filled with books.

“My grandfather felt a radio would bring vulgar ideas into the house,” Allende recalls. “So I grew up with books, and the library became a favorite place. And that led to a passion for words and storytelling.”

So she says she is “delighted and surprised” to be awarded the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Carl Sandburg Literary Award. The award will be presented to Allende and Michael Lewis (“Moneyball,” “The Blind Side”) on Wednesday at the foundation’s celebratory dinner. Author Christine Sneed (“Little Known Facts”) also will accept the 21st Century Award, which honors a significant recent achievement by a Chicago-area writer.

All proceeds support Foundation-sponsored Chicago Public Library outreach programs, including the Summer Learning Challenge; One Book, One Chicago; Teacher in the Library and CyberNavigators.

Allende is a prolific writer whose first novel “The House of the Spirits” was a worldwide hit. She is known for a style that encompasses magic realism but also has written memoirs, children’s fiction and historical fiction.

There isn’t much that Allende won’t try. So it’s no surprise her newest work, “Ripper,” due out in January, is a crime novel. It takes place in current-day San Francisco and has nothing to do with Jack the Ripper. Instead, it was inspired by a video game she saw her grandchildren playing.

“I’m not even a crime novel reader,” she says, laughing. “I had no idea what the formula for this was. But I had a wonderful time researching and creating the plot and characters and planting the clues. I was fascinated by the process but know I will never be able to do it again.”

In a writing career that spans more than 30 years, Allende says her greatest achievement is the readers, some 60 million worldwide, who have taken the journey with her.

“Every book is like a bottle with a message that you throw in the ocean and maybe it will reach some shore and someone will pick it up. I find it astonishing that so many people have done that with my books. I feel connected to them all.”

For more information on the awards dinner, visit or call the Chicago Public Library Foundation at (312) 201-9830, ext. 25.

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.

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