American Writers Museum in Chicago, Illinois is a totally unique and interactive museum exclusively focused on American writers. To be honest, this museum was a discovery of Anjali who loves to read. Of all the sites to see in Chicago’s visitors guide, her number one request was this one. Boy are we glad we fulfilled her wish because this was the highlight of our trip to Chicago. Totally uniquely American, educational, fun, and full of American literary knowledge, this museum made us all appreciate the great art of writing.
The building for this very unassuming museum is not ostentatious nor is it imposing, for that matter it is a rather humble building that houses the American Writers Museum. But what awaits visitors inside is a treasure trove of literary encyclopedia on American writers.
An interesting observation I made here is that the museum was quiet and not crowded at all which made our entire experience here a pleasant and truly a family experience. Seriously folks, there may have been 5 other visitors here – that’s it! We had the museum all to ourselves! When was the last time you stopped by a museum that wasn’t crowded?
The mission of the American Writers Museum as articulated by the organization “Is to celebrate the enduring influence of American writers. American writing is distinctive, diverse, and comes in many forms from across the nations. As the only museum devoted to American writers and their works, AWM connects visitors with their favorite authors and writings from more than five centuries, while inspiring the discovery of new works of every type – poetry, lyrics, speeches, drama, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, and more.”
The museum starts off with a look at beloved and well-known children’s books and information on their authors. So many of the books featured in this gallery are household names but rarely do we hear much about the lives of the amazing writers who wrote these timeless books. In this gallery, writers are given a spotlight and shows what impact great childrens books have on American culture.
Children’s Literature Gallery
The Children’s Literature Gallery begins with an illustrative mural with forty-two squirrels reading thirty-four books, each representing a major milestone in American children’s literature.
Many beloved books that we all grew up with are highlighted in this gallery.
“Children’s books are gateways to a lifelong love of literature and art. They give us the heroes we need just when we need them: at the start of our quest to discover who and what we are. They give us stories we will long remember.” historian Leonard S. Marcus.
There was an interactive question as part of the display for the novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The question proposed was which sister from the book do we think our sisters are or in my case my daughters resemble? I was able to accurately describe each of my three daughters with these vignettes 😀.
The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes is a book I was not familiar with, however it sounded beautiful. A great addition I will be making to my home library.
This illustrative book was a quick read and so apropos!
A Nation of Writers Gallery
The next gallery which was the most extensive and the focal point of this museum took us through a historical timeline of American literature with a focus on the writers and authors who made an impact with their written works not only on American culture but American history as well.
Each writer had a brief biography with the writer’s works that had made him or her popular and shared the impact the writer had with their written prose. Included were little factoids about the writer that were so interesting and enlightening, truly a good read.
“English is our de facto national language, a legacy of colonization. Yet today’s Americans speak more than 350 languages, a reflection of the nation’s immigrant history and the enduring presence of our indigenous people. Given such diversity, is it possible to say that there is a single American literature, a body of work with a distinctive character? In a word, yes.
The 100 authors featured here represent the evolution and flourishing of American writing. Writers of the 1600s and 1700s borrowed forms and themes from Europe, applying them to New World settings and issues. Then, over the course of the 1800s, a new, democratic style emerged, rooted in the way Americans talked and thought. Previously underrepresented voices began to be heard, culminating with an explosion of perspectives in the modern era. Taken together, this rich literary heritage reflects America in all of its complexity: its energy, hope, conflict, disillusionment, and creativity. ” American Writer’s Museum
There were one hundred boards on American authors and writers and their works. So many of the writer’s life stories were full of excitement, danger, love, empathy, anti racism and anti bigotry, that each writer’s life stories were as fascinating as the essays, poems, novels and prose they wrote. This was truly an inspirational gallery.
I wish I could share with you every one of the writer’s stories as each and every story was engrossing and thought-provoking. Here is just a small sampling of the writers featured in this gallery and their contributions to American literary history.
First published African American Author. Phillis Wheatley
The rise of women’s rights and the importance of writers and their written words in this movement.
The beginning of the mystery and thriller genre.
Can you guess who was the creator of these genres – science fiction, horror and mystery?
The answer is Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote novels in all these genres including poetry and short stories.
The rise of environmentalism and naturalist inspired novels. John Muir and Mark Twain
First woman to win a Pulitzer Prize. Edith Wharton
The gallery continues to explore writers from the turn of the century into early parts of the 20th century with familiar names such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, and E.B. White
This is just a fraction of the authors, essayists, reporters, and writers on display here at the museum. Really, this is one of the best executed museums I have been to, making us actually want to linger longer than we expected to.
Many Writers, Many Forms
“Memorable writing can be long or short, fact or fiction. A clever advertising tagline can linger in our collective consciousness. A stanza-length poem can convey a world of emotion. A multivolume biography can offer a nuanced, faceted portrait of a single individual. A novel can sweep us away to another place and time.” American Writers Museum
The Writers Gallery ended with a beautiful display of well noted quotes on America.
“Writers have long debated American-ness. What does American mean? What does it mean to be an American? How should we interpret the promise of the Declaration of Independence, which asserts our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? How have we failed or succeeded at ensuring equality for all? What do we love about this country? Is the United States of America truly exceptional?
This immersive experience offers just a few perspectives on the meaning of America.” American Writers Museum
Candid shots of writers and authors as captured by photographer Art Shay.
The Writer’s Desk
The kids went nuts at the opportunity to type on an old fashioned typewriter! If you are my age then you remember typing painfully on the typewriter and having to correct mistakes with a white out.
For once I was teaching the kids how to type and not them teaching me how to text 😀.
Typing on an old fashioned typewriter can be painful. Lets go back to texting on our cell phones 😀 it’s soooo much easier!
Chicago Gallery. Writers, Visionaries and Troublemakers.
I really enjoyed the Chicago Gallery. With a focus on local writers who made huge impact not only on the city but the wave of social reform taking over the country in the early day of our country. This was a very enlightening gallery on the many contributions local writers have made to American literature and society at large.
Here is a look at a few of the luminaries and literary figures in the Chicago Gallery at the American Writers Museum.
Chicago writers are visionaries, unafraid of trying something new. The city is one of the birthplaces of realism, an approach to writing that elevates the”everyday” into art. Chicago poets, novelists, journalists, and other writers have found inspiration in everyday people, telling their stories and transforming the way they talk into art. Chicago writers are also troublemakers…with a humanist bent. They have shone the light on injustice, questioned authority, and articulated bold new visions for a better world. Chicago writers are agents of change.
Mind of a Writer
And lastly this goes out to all you bloggers, writers, poets, reporters, photo journalists, and essayists. The American Writers Museum had a wonderful illustration of famous writers sharing their thoughts on writing a well-detailed and articulated written prose. Enjoy!
“This gallery offers insights into how writers think: the daily discipline and habits necessary to get the work done, the deep understanding of language to make the writing sing. At the root of it all is a love of words. The right word can elevate a line or sentence into art…and if the right word does not yet exist, then inventing a new one might do the trick.” American Writers Museum
Great writing comes across as effortless, but it is not. The writers featured here in the Museum spent years honing their craft – practicing, practicing, practicing.
As E.B. White once observed in his classic revision of William Strunk’s Elements of Style “Writing good standard English is no cinch. Transcendent writing is even harder.” American Writers Museum
A little tidbit about the American Writers Museum
When Anjali was researching about the American Writers Museum she passed on this tidbit about the museum that I found interesting – the American Writers Museum took inspiration from a similar literary museum in Dublin, Ireland. Anjali forwarded an article from NY Times which did a story about the American Writers Museum when it first opened titled An Everyman Museum to Celebrate American Writers.
According to NY Times the museum is the brainchild of Malcolm O’Hagan, a retired executive from the Washington, D.C area who visited his home country Ireland where he cam across the Dublin Writers Museum and wondered why there was nothing similar in the United States. Within months O’Hagan incorporated a nonprofit organization dedicated to raise funds for a similar museum here in America. Funding for this museum almost all came from private donors. With the help of Mr. Anway, founder of Boston-based design firm Amaze Design, brainstorming sessions were organized with writers, publishers, scholars, teachers and booksellers in various cities to discuss the project. Chicago was ultimately chosen as the location for the museum because of its strong foot traffic and rich literary history, which is explored in its own gallery at the museum titled the Chicago Gallery. Visionaries and Troublemakers. American Writers Museum.org
A Poem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
This is my theme for English B
The instructor said,
“Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you?
Then, it will be true.”
I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
“Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.” ― Carl Sagan
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