I spent part of the first day of fall at Chicago's newest museum, the American Writers Museum, which opened back in May. The museum is located on the second floor of an office building on Michigan Avenue, about a block from Millennium Park and the office building where I used to work.
The museum is small. It took me only an hour or so to through the whole thing. I don't know if the size was by design or a result of finances. I hope the latter, because the museum seemed like a "starter museum," much like the starter house a young couple might buy. It could be so much more, and I'd like to see it grow.
The museum is divided into two halves: one about the history of American writing and one about the craft of writing. It's a nice balance. It also has space for two special exhibits--in this case, one about palm trees and one about Jack Kerouac's On the Road. The Kerouac one was my favorite. It includes the scroll on which Kerouac typed his first draft and, holy cow, is that impressive.
Of the two halves, I enjoyed the writing-craft section more than the history section. It was very interactive--with typewriters and laptops for visitors to try their hand at original writing, games to compare yourself to famous writers, and a challenge where visitors can pit their own word skills against the masters.
The history part of the museum was interesting but superficial. That's where the museum has the potential to be so much more. There's a small room that serves as an exhibit about the wonders of children literature, with images from Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and Charlotte's Web. This, too, was interactive--inviting children to explore and experiment. With more space, I think the museum could explore children's literature in much more depth. I'd love to see something about the history and evolution of children's literature, for example.
The bulk of the history display is a wall-length timeline of important American writers. I was impressed by the diversity of the list. There were a few names that I'd never heard before. But again, I wanted to know more. With more space, the museum could devote a room or wall to each time period on the timeline and provide more information about each writer and display artifacts related to the time period and/or its writers.
With most museums, I leave with a need to go back and explore parts of it again. I didn't have that experience this time. I think I got out of the American Writers Museum everything there was to get out of it. Should it expand, however, I'd go back in a heartbeat.