It’s hard to imagine how a museum devoted to the written word could inspire you to move and play. But the new Chicago-based American Writers Museum does just that, along with making you laugh out loud and mourn fallen lit heroes.
Flip one of 100 neon-lit display boards on the Surprise Bookshelf exhibit, and you might encounter the comedic genius of Richard Pryor. Flip again, and you might see an ad slogan that claimed brain space you could have used back in algebra class.
Word Waterfall. Photo courtesy of American Writers Museum.
At the Word Waterfall, watch letters twinkle like fireflies as crickets chirp and Walt Whitman’s prose on sleep comes into view and then vanishes, giving way to other shapes, sounds and phrases.
And in the Children’s Literature Gallery, help a kid spin the giant Wheel of Emotions, inspired by Where The Wild Things Are.
Completed in May, the museum covers 11,000 square feet on the second floor of an office building on North Michigan Avenue (there’s a sign, but you have to look for it) a block north of Millennium Park.
Malcolm O’Hagan, a retired engineer living in Washington, D.C., championed the museum after visiting the Dublin Writers Museum in his native Ireland in 2009. He wondered why nothing like it existed in the United States. Chicago, with its central location and literary legacy, seemed a natural choice.
The museum’s Chicago Gallery explores the lives and works of writers with connections to the city. The list includes activist and playwright Lorraine Hansberry, novelist and journalist Upton Sinclair, social reformer Jane Addams, and legendary film critic Roger Ebert.
The museum houses 12 permanent exhibits and two temporary ones. From the museum’s May opening through early November, visitors were able to see the 120-foot-long scroll where Jack Kerouac typed his epic travel narrative, On The Road. Now, you’ll find original illustrations created for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first manuscript and photos of the natural world that inspired her life and work.