A Museum for the People Behind the VolumesPrint
By Margaret Foster
December 5, 2016
In March, the first-ever museum dedicated to American writers will open in Chicago, home of Saul Bellow, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ernest Hemingway, and Studs Terkel. More than 50 literati sit on the museum’s National Advisory Council, including literature professors, scholars, and writers like Billy Collins, Alice McDermott, Stuart Dybek, and Scott Turow. We asked Carey Cranston, president of the 11,000-square-foot interactive museum, about its roots and mission.
How did the idea for the American Writers Museum come about?
More than six years ago, Malcolm O’Hagen, a retired executive, was visiting Ireland. He saw an Irish writers museum and started asking if there was an American writers museum that he could go visit. And there wasn’t one. There are great libraries and author homes across the country, but there was no institution focused on the American author as a significant cultural icon. He thought it was important, so he began talking to people—and that started conversations that led to the creation of the organization. Sometimes we think of the book as being important to American culture, and we forget about the people behind the book, the people behind the writing.
How was the location chosen?
The centrality and some of the cultural significance of the city led us to decide that Chicago was a good place to put the museum. The spot was chosen on North Michigan Avenue, where there are a lot of cultural sites. So it seemed like the ideal place to be.
How will you engage your visitors?
We will host special events so we can turn the museum into a place for public readings, book signings, and that type of thing.
We also intend to build writing-focused, classroom-in-a-box activities that we can bring to schools to try to create large-scale writing competitions similar to science fairs.
Writing leads to authority—you get the word “author” out of “authority.” Writing can empower people. So by reaching out to students who come from economically disadvantaged areas, we can show children that writing can be empowering, that it can allow them to control their own lives or at least understand them better.
Margaret Foster is associate editor of the Scholar.