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Bronzeville, Near South Side

Bronzeville Playwright J. Nicole Brooks Honored With Chicago Public Library Foundation Award

The playwright, along with artist Theaster Gates and author Amy Tan, were recognized for their contributions to the cultural landscape.

J. Nicole Brooks is a writer, director and actress.
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BRONZEVILLE — J. Nicole Brooks was 8 when she first stepped into a Chicago Public Library Hall branch to grab a book — now, she’s celebrating the debut of her most recent play and nabbing a major award from the library’s sister group.

Libraries have long played a pivotal role in Brooks’ career. The actor, writer and director remembers that time when, at 8 years old, she stopped by the Hall Library, 4801 S. Michigan Ave.

“It was the first time I’d been outside of the library in my school, and I was shocked by the height of it,” Brooks said. “There seemed to be one person who was in charge, and she was smiling. The question in my mind was, ‘How do I do this?’ and the answer was, ‘Find a librarian.'”

The answer is the same now: When Brooks was writing her latest play, “Her Honor Jane Byrne,” she sought out a librarian for advice on writing about Chicago’s first woman mayor. The play runs through Dec. 19 at Lookingglass Theatre. You can buy tickets online.

And last week, the Chicago Public Library Foundation honored Brooks with its 21st Century Award.

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Artist Theaster Gates was also honored by the Chicago Public Library Foundation for efforts to revitalize the community through art.

It’s a milestone moment — and it comes not long after Brooks hit a wall in 2016, when she returned to Chicago after living in Los Angeles to pursue her craft.

That year, she was invited to the library awards ceremony, where she found herself in a room with some of the country’s most renowned authors, including Eve Ewing and Dave Eggers. During the ceremony, Ewing turned her back to then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in protest.

“I walked out of there thinking, ‘Authors are the baddest motherf—kers walking, and I’m going to be on that stage one day,'” Brooks said.

That dream came true Nov. 9, when Brooks was honored.

Brooks was one of three creatives honored by the organization, along with author Amy Tan and artist Theaster Gates, who is the first recipient of the foundation’s Arts Award.

Brenda Langstraat, president and CEO of the Chicago Public Library Foundation, said she was introduced to Brooks’ work through Elizabeth Taylor, author of “American Pharaoh,” another work about a Chicago mayor.

“We were thinking about the 21st century author, and she said, ‘I think it’s J. Nicole Brooks this year,'” Langstraat said. “In honoring her, we also lift up the theater community.”

The 2021 Chicago Library Foundation Awards ceremony is available for viewing here.

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