What is the American Writers Museum?
The American Writers Museum sign on the side of a building caught my attention as I cut a path through the crowd along Michigan Avenue to meet a friend. What exactly is the American Writers Museum, I wondered as I hurried to reach my luncheon destination north of the Chicago River. My curiosity piqued, I vowed to check it out later during my weekend stay in the Windy City.
Finding a few hours of free time the next morning, I retraced my steps to 180 North Michigan Avenue and entered the American Writers Museum on the second floor as the doors were unlocked at 10 am sharp, pleased to be the first visitor of the day. Wowed by the high-tech and shiny-new gleam of the place, I learned the museum’s grand opening on May 16, 2017 had been less than two months before my visit. Here’s what I discovered on my tour. Click on any image to enlarge and use your back arrow to return.
The American Writers Museum Mission
The mission of the American Writers Museum, posted inside the entry doors, is to educate visitors on American writers past and present, celebrate the influence of American writers on our culture, deepen our appreciation of good writing through the spoken and written form, encourage a love of reading and writing, and inspire future writers. These lofty goals are realized in fantastic and engaging ways through the hands-on and interactive exhibits neatly arranged throughout the modest space.
Following are some of the exhibits that grabbed my attention and held me captive, but there are many more to enjoy. I was so spellbound by the museum that I was late checking out of my hotel because I couldn’t drag myself away.
Children’s Literature Gallery
A sweet welcome to the museum tour, this whimsical space is devoted to classic children’s books that spark the imagination and lay the foundation for a lifelong love of reading and the arts. Displays highlight renowned authors and treasures like Dr. Seuss and Charlotte’s Web. Children and parents can read and play in this room while admiring the artwork, including a mural of a tree on one wall with its branches decorated by famous children’s books.
A Nation of Writers Video
Various authors’ names, hometowns, and famous quotes are projected across a screen shaped like the United States to visually show that American writers come from all parts of the country. This is a neat way to quickly pinpoint which authors hail from your own neck of the woods. Some you probably know about already, but others you might be surprised to see! Here’s a sneak peek.
American Voices Wall
This was my favorite exhibit and the area I needed a lot more time to explore. This section features 100 influential American writers stretched out along a historical timeline from the 1600s to the present day. Each author is given a biography and summary of what they wrote about and why while referencing the larger context of what was going on in American history at the time. A diverse group of writers are represented here from politicians to sportscasters, critics, journalists, and novelists. Some are well known, like Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allan Poe, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some are more obscure but equally fascinating. This exhibit includes lots of hands-on activities with touch-screen computers and rotating wooden triangles to flip for more information. I could have spent many more happy hours perusing this timeline and reading all the information available. I must go back for this one!
Word Waterfall Projection
This was a super cool presentation using words projected upon a black screen across two walls to create patriotic images and motion to highlight famous author quotes about America. I was mesmerized and glued to my spot watching this light show and had to force myself to move on. Only a video will do this exhibit justice for an explanation, so watch.
Story of the Day Space
Here’s the spot for the writer in all of us to create and share a story after being inspired by all the greats who have come before. Take your pick from old school writing, with pen and paper or typewriter, to new age using digital media. Craft your personal story and then post it on the story wall or upload it online for viewing by others.
While browsing the story wall, I came across a poignant piece left by a previous visitor that touched me deeply. The relevance of the subject matter to my own experience made me feel I was destined to be at the American Writers Museum on the day I visited. This writer’s pain reminded me that you don’t need to be famous to move people with words. You just need to honestly share situations and emotions, like this heartbreaking recollection posted anonymously:
“We had to place her in the facility. Her daughter kept calling it her new apartment but she knew what was up. None of us had seen her cry but she cried that day. It hurt like a cancer.
After the deed was done, we drove to a bar and told stories, but laughed very little as we remembered things she could no longer remember—a wake for a living member of our circle.”
All the Rest
There is plenty more to enjoy besides the exhibits I’ve described, like the gallery devoted to Chicago writers, the Word Play interactive tables (kind of like Mad Libs), Anatomy of a Masterwork wall, Featured Works touch table, Reader’s Favorites kiosks for book and author rankings, Surprise Bookshelf, and temporary exhibits that change.
My Verdict on the American Writers Museum
The American Writers Museum is fantastic and not to be missed by bibliophiles; it is well worth the $12 price of admission for those who love reading, writing, and American literature. The museum is expertly designed to bring literature and master storytelling to the masses in an engaging and interactive way that is truly fun and inspiring. Bookworms and wordsmiths alike should put this museum on your to-do list while in Chicago. The museum is not overwhelming in space or content, but you need several hours or more to get the most out of your visit. You will not be disappointed! If you’ve already been to this museum, what did you think? I’d love to know your thoughts!