American Writers Museum Opens in Chicago

It spotlights the country’s rich literature history.

American Writers Museum Opens in Chicago

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From Mark Twain to Toni Morrison, Arthur Miller to Lin-Manuel Miranda, the United States has produced its fair share of fantastic writers over the past few hundred years. Now—finally, really—there’s a museum to celebrate this colorful history.

That museum, the American Writers Museum, has opened in Chicago, adding another museum to a city already renowned for its cultural institutions.

According to an article in the New York Times, the museum has 13 exhibits in six galleries that pay homage to work spanning a variety of genres: fiction, nonfiction, children’s fiction, plays, and even sports writing. Although there’s no formal section on travel writing, the museum does spotlight certain individual works that fall into this category. (Woo-hoo!)

Essentially, the place makes a statement that good writing comes in many forms.

To that end, the museum values ideas and history over artifacts. Sure, there’s an exhibit that “introduces” visitors to old-school typewriters, but the place does not have an extensive collection of pens and Moleskine notebooks from authors of yesteryear. It also wasn’t meant to be a library; while the place provides timelines and displays with information about America’s great authors—as well as the sociopolitical context behind them—it does not feature many of the books they wrote.

There is, however, one “book” on display: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Kerouac typed out the original manuscript on a Torah-like 120-foot scroll, and that scroll is on display in a temporary exhibit titled “The Beat Journey: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.”

Elsewhere in the museum, one gallery spotlights Chicago-area writers, and another focuses on luminaries behind American children’s literature.

There even are interactive components. One room features a “word waterfall” of cascading words on digital screens; elsewhere around the facility, digital wordplay tables encourage visitors to fill in the blanks in famous novels or test skills in a word-composition game.

The museum is the brainchild of Malcolm O’Hagan, a literature fanatic from Maryland who visited the Dublin Writers Museum in Ireland and asked himself why a similar facility didn’t exist back home. That initial trip was eight years ago; O’Hagan raised $10 million in private funding and almost single-handedly shepherded the museum from conception to the 11,000-square-foot space it occupies today.

Tickets for the American Writers Museum are $12. Kids 12 and under are free.

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Matt Villano is a writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him, visit
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