This year the American Writers Museum in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. It was high time I visited so despite the rain and cold, I took a friend from Milwaukee to explore it.
After showing our tickets, which I bought online and got a 20% discount on, we were directed to start our visit on the right where there is a timeline of American writers.
If you look up on the left and you’ll see a timeline of American history. Under that is the main exhibit showing a chronological series of portraits of significant American writers. When you turn the panel, which has three sides, you’ll find more information and background about each writer. Below is information on a well designed panel about various literary movements or authors. It’s a lot of reading, but its well presented. Also, the curators seem to have made an effort to present authors from all backgrounds. Across from the time line is a wall of squares with author’s quotations. The squares move to reveal an panel with more information or a video.
Parallel to the gallery with the timeline was a photo exhibit on biographies, written by or on authors or celebrities along with their photos. The black and white photos of 50+ years ago were my favorite. There’s something about the crisp gradations and the styles of bygone eras that we just don’t see much anymore.
The next room I saw was the Readers Room which focuses on reading. It highlights different kinds of reading, such as educational, newspapers, magazines and more. There are two interactive screens where you can submit your favorite authors and see the most popular authors or books other visitors have chosen.
Another gallery had a small exhibit on Laura Ingles Wilder with biographical information, maps of where each of her books was set, depiction of her work in other formats and critical responses to her works.
The museum has a table with different typewriters, from the earliest kind to Selectric to a laptop. People were pounding away at the old typewriters while the laptop wasn’t used while I was there.
Quotation, Octavia Butler
Then there was an exhibit on the skills of writing with interactive exhibits on specificity, making prose active and such.
Finally, there was an area dedicated to Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, Ida B. Wells, Mike Royko, Ring Larder, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Peter Finley Dunne and many more. Here you could listen to short recordings of their work and see these turnable banners with their portraits and information on their work.
Each month the museum offers several programs including public readings. The staff was very helpful as we went through the galleries. They’d point out little things like the mural in the children’s room which had squirrels in a tree reading Caldecott award winning books and each squirrel had some element that related to the story it was reading. For example, the squirrel reading Charlotte’s Web, had a wisp of a web hanging over it.
All in all, I give the museum a thumbs up and will be back. I’d say allow an hour to get through the museum. If there’s a program, add more time.
Tickets: Adults $12, Students $8, discounts for children and seniors.