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The American Writers Museum: Chicago’s Literary Treasure

A Must See Museum for the Literary Tourist

While staying in Chicago on a two-day business trip, I had one free morning to sightsee. With so much to see and so little time to do so, I was faced with an anxiety-inducing decision. I wanted an experience off the beaten path of well-trodden tourist attractions so I did some googling to searching for “unusual museums” and “unique attractions.”

My search led me to the American Writers Museum located on Chicago’s famed Magnificent Mile. Perfect! I can visit the museum and get my writer’s fix then walk to Millenium Park for selfies with the city’s popular attractions.

IMG 4249For this writer and bibliophile, I had planned the ideal morning.  The American Writers Museum opened in 2017 “to celebrate the enduring influence of American writers on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.” It seemed a bold risk, investing in an attraction that showcases a profession lacking the visual drama of Chicago’s well-known landmarks, architecture and other museums.

IMG 4252Writers toil alone and words aren’t particularly selfie material. I wondered how the founders managed to fill an entire museum with something others want to see and experience sans the social media lure of competing attractions? The museum supersedes the visual limits of words by capturing the behind-the-scenes struggle—  a writer’s daily summoning of the personal muse in hopes of entering that ethereal dimension of creative flow where all sense of time is lost as the words pour forth.

Bob Dylan: Electric Exhibit at American Writers Musem in Chicago
Bob Dylan: Electric Exhibit at American Writers Musem in Chicago

The ever-evolving exhibits feature the works and bios of authors, poets, and songwriters. During my visit, the museum featured a temporary exhibit celebrating Bob Dylan’s Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for literature. Open to the public through April 30, 2019, Bob Dylan: Electric spotlights Dylan’s writing – song, poetry, and prose – between his 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance and 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature.

For me, the main attraction is the Jack Kerouac digital scroll of his novel, On the Road. Kerouac wrote his famous novel in a stream of consciousness in just three weeks, on telegraph paper that he taped together and trimmed to fit into his typewriter. The digital scroll is the first draft of the novel published in 1957, a fictionalized account of the author’s cross country road trips.

JackKerouac
Jack Kerouac was the son of French-Canadian immigrants and saw himself as a cultural outsider.

Kerouac drew inspiration from Jazz and its musical improvisations in his approach to writing his novel. Jim Irsay, owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts football team, purchased Kerouac’s 120-foot long original scroll which is cared for by James Canary, an expert in the preservation of paper from the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana.

James Canary, an expert in the preservation of paper from the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana
James Canary, an expert in the preservation of paper from the Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana

The Lilly Library is the main repository for rare books, manuscripts, and special collections of Indiana University

OnTheRoadBookOn the Road became a defining work of the Beat Generation, a loose collaborative of artists and writers who rejected the mainstream in favor of the experimental and spiritual. 

IMG 4248My other favorite exhibit was Mind of a Writer. This walls of this inspirational gallery are filled with quotes from famous writers about their creative process and craft.

IMG 4258The gallery offers insights into how a writer thinks as well as the daily discipline and habits necessary to get the work done.

IMG 4257IMG 4256IMG 4254I was intrigued by the raw honesty in many of the quotes that capture a writer’s self-doubt and fear that they will never be published— that lurking dread that they have gambled away their time on a manuscript that no one reads.  

IMG 4240Another highlight of my visit was the First Lines exhibit, a wall of handwritten first sentences of novels written by accomplished authors.

IMG 4242IMG 4241IMG 4246IMG 4245Many of these authors crafted their first lines for stories that have yet to be written.

IMG 4266Whether you consider yourself an author, a journalist, a creative writer or diarist, we all have a shared experience that is made tangible among the museum’s galleries and personified through the literary greats featured.  I highly recommend a visit to the American Writers Museum to experience Chicago’s literary treasure. 

The American Writers Museum located in the International Harvester Building at 180 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago.
The American Writers Museum located in the International Harvester Building at 180 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago.

The museum sits in the historic former International Harvester Building at 180 N. Michigan Ave, just a few blocks from Millennium Park.

The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry in Millennium Park, Chicago.
The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry in Millennium Park, Chicago.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped by to take my requisite selfies of the iconic attractions in this urban art park including the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry; the digital media Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa; and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture. 

Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, taking a selfie in front of Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park, Chicago.
Karen LeBlanc, aka The Design Tourist, taking a selfie in front of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park, Chicago.
Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park, Chicago
Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park, Chicago

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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