Up on the second floor of 180 N. Michigan Avenue beginning mid May, 2017 you will find Samuel Clemens and Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and Nelson Algren, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Gwendolyn Brooks.
The list of great American and Chicago writers could easily fill a few large tomes.
Instead the famed writers will be filling the American Writers Museum with their personalities, words and, hopefully, inspiring new generations of writers.
Divided into permanent and temporary galleries covering more than 11,000 square feet, the museum will have artifacts and exhibits loaned from historic writers’ homes, interactive spaces, special events and educational programs.
Among its features are the “Writers Hall” that introduces visitors to the museum and the “Nation of Writers” film, a Children’s Literature Gallery that includes Dr. Seuss and L. Frank Baum, and a Chicago gallery called “Chicago Writers: Visionaries and Troublemakers.”
There will be a 60-foot-long exhibit wall titled “American Voices” that traces American literary history from the early oral lore of Native Americans to current multi genres.
Also in the museum is the “Readers Hall,” a multipurpose space for readings and other events and “The Mind of a Writer Gallery” where visitors can create stories.
“Mind” contains “Story of the Day” and the “Word Play” interactive table. Plus there is a touch-table where visitors can really delve into some of the masterworks in American Literature.
A “Writer’s Room Gallery” will have changing artifacts and exhibits starting with Jack Kerouac’s scroll for “On the Road.”
In addition, the “Changing Gallery” will open with “Palm,” an immersive experience sponsored by The Poetry Foundation to celebrate poet W. S. Merwin and how writers pull readers into nature. It is an interactive Sayler/Morris installation that is debuting at the American Writers Museum.
The museum may sound like something that should have already existed but it took a retired manufacturing executive who loved literature to say so and talk up the idea to other like-minded people, according to AWM President Carey Cranston.
“The true founder was Malcolm O’Hagan,” said Cranston.
“Malcolm is a lover of literature and an engineer who eventually became the head of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association in D.C. before retiring. In his retirement he volunteered as a docent at the Library of Congress (and still does). He is also an immigrant from Ireland, who came to the U.S. for graduate school and stayed to make his life in America. On a trip to Ireland during his retirement he visited the Irish Writers Museum and when he came back he asked people where the American Writers Museum was, and he was told there wasn’t one.”
Cranston added, “So, from there, Malcolm set out to find people who agreed with him that there should be one. He enlisted a broad base of support and the project began to grow from there.”
O’Hagan was president during the seven plus years it took to get the project going before Cranston became president last October. O’Hagan continues to serve on the board.
The American Writers Museum plans a Grand Opening for May 16, 2017.