Call me a curmudgeon, but I’ve always felt jealous of other professions’ museums.
I remember trekking through hall after hall of science museums, art history museums and space museums as a student, many of them full of fun, interactive features and exhibits that helped draw you into the topic in a new way.
But the only writing-focused museums I’ve experienced were always musty, antiquated ordeals — typically the old houses of one writer or another, displaying vintage furniture, clothing and bric-a-brac that, while historically interesting, hardly made me feel invigorated or inspired.
Well, listen up, word nerds, because our time has finally come.
The wholly original American Writers Museum, opened back in 2017 in Chicago, Illinois, and it’s everything you ever wanted a writing museum to be.
Here’s why you’ll want to include it in your next travel plans.
Writing presented in a whole new way at the American Writers Museum
The first museum of its kind, the American Writers Museum’s mission is to “engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.”
It accomplishes this through unique exhibits and modern multimedia installations designed to not only educate visitors, but also inspire them, surprise them and challenge them to consider writing as not just an end product, but a way of living and approaching the world. It divides its focus smoothly between honoring noteworthy American writers and works and exploring the actual experience of writing.
Whether you’ve completed NaNoWriMo every year since its inception or you’ve been struggling with writer’s block for longer than you’d like to admit, the American Writers Museum is sure to excite and motivate you.
You may even find the non-writerly friends and family you convince to come along have a new appreciation for how awesome (and challenging, and maddening) you’ve always known writing is.
As museum president Carey Cranston told Chicago magazine, “It’s not about books under glass.”
What you’ll find inside this Chicago writers museum
Nestled in the heart of downtown Chicago, The American Writers Museum is only one floor at the moment, but it hopes to expand in time — and its opening offerings are more than enough to keep any scribe or book lover occupied for days.
From A Nation of Writers, a timeline of American writers, to the colorful Children’s Literature Gallery , the museum covers 400 years of American authors and literature in a way even the most avid of English majors never encountered. (Think: a “Surprise Bookshelf” that allows you to immerse your senses in things like the woodsy scent of Walden or Julia Child’s fresh-baked cookies.)
You’ll also find displays dedicated to the craft of writing and the writing process itself. Even the role of readers of American literature is celebrated and explored in the interpretative exhibits in Readers Hall, the museum’s primary event space, where visitors can “get a glimpse of what everyday Americans were reading throughout history, and weigh in on their favorite reading material.”
In addition to the permanent installations, there are currently three spaces for rotating exhibits. The first two feature the celebration of work created by immigrant and refugee writers and the examination of the history of writing, including “the tools that have made writing possible over the years.” If you’re in Chicago in the near future, be sure to stop by to check out the fascinating Bob Dylan exhibit that illuminates his musical and literary contributions over the course of his impactful career spanning more than 55 years.
Interactive exhibits like a mesmerizing video “Word Waterfall,” digital magnetic poetry and a famous first lines guessing game keep visitors engaged from start to finish. If you’re inspired to set your own words to paper, daily prompts are available and you can clip your masterpiece to the wall for others to enjoy.
They also offer a varied calendar of events like workshops, readings, children’s’ storytimes and more, most of which are free to the public.
The American Writers Museum in Chicago is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors 65 or older, and free for kids 12 and under. Group tours and field trips can be arranged in advance by visiting this page. For parking and directions, see here.
And for those who still have an interest in author-specific museums, 70 of them across the U.S. are now affiliates of the American Writer’s Museum, with more to be added in the future. Plus, each author home is “dedicated to preserving and celebrating American authors and inspiring the future of American writing.” You’ll find a map of their locations and a bookmark with information for each one at the museum.
Do you plan to visit the American Writers Museum in Chicago?
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.