The president of the American Writers Museum Malcolm O’Hagan with the inside scoop on this year’s major literary event…
AFG: Tell us about the American Writers Museum?
MO: The American Writers Museum will be a place where visitors enjoy an intimate encounter with our greatest writers and their works. The multimedia interactive exhibits will draw visitors into the lives of writers, the creative process will be examined, and visitors will be challenged to write their own stories. The museum will show where and how writers lived and worked, leavened with interesting backstories. Visitors will be able to accompany roving writers such as Kerouac and Steinbeck on their literary journeys, and “visit” writers’ homes and fictional sites such as Tara, Cannery Row, and The House of the Seven Gables. A Word Waterfall will enchant visitors; literary quizzes and word games will entertain. Those who visit the museum will be inspired to write or to run to their local library to check out the reading list they compiled during their visit.
AFG: When will it be open to the public?
MO: The museum is scheduled to open to the public in March 2017.
AFG: Who had this idea and my next question should be, why haven’t we tried anything like this before?
MO: The idea was sparked by the Dublin Writers Museum, which celebrates the great Irish writers.A couple of attempts were made in the past to create some form of writers museum, but they were not successful for different reasons. Everything has its time, and now is a great time for the American Writers Museum. Technology is changing the way we write and read, and technology makes it possible to tell the stories of our writers in engaging interactive exhibits.
AFG: What was your biggest challenge?
MO: The biggest challenge, as with just about every project, is funding. There are always many worthy projects competing for available funds.
AFG: How was this funded?
MO: Funding to date has come largely from private and public foundations and from individuals. We have also received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Chicago Community Trust, and several corporations.
AFG: How much input did you get from your advisory board?
MO: We have received excellent guidance from members of our National Advisory Council and extensive input from our curatorial team. We are relying on the diverse experiences and opinions of leading literary and museum experts to ensure that we meet visitor expectations.
AFG: Is this something that will appeal to kids?
MO: Kids are our future and we have to inspire them to read and write. In addition to a dedicated Children’s Gallery, there will be features throughout the museum that will appeal to young people.
AFG: How has the response been so far?
MO: Almost without exception, the response has been enthusiastic. Surprise that an institution celebrating great writing does not already exist leads immediately to cheerleading as evidenced by the many accolades posted at our website.
AFG: Share some local legends who will be highlighted in the museum collection.
MO: Think of the AWM as an American Writers Hall of Fame. All the greats will be featured there.
AFG: Do you plan on having live events, music, etc.?
MO: There will be on-going programming at the museum and sponsored by the museum at other venues.
AFG: Anything dedicated to mystery authors?
MO: You will have to visit to find out!
AFG: If you had a literary legend you could have a coffee with, who would that be?
MO: Most literary legends preferred something stronger than coffee! I would be delighted to spend an evening with any of them.
AFG: Tell us about the building that houses the museum?
MO: The AWM will be housed in an existing building at 180 North Michigan Avenue. The building is strategically located for the AWM on one of the busiest blocks on Michigan Ave, adjacent to Millennium Park and next to the Chicago Cultural Center. It is close to a number of large hotels, making it readily accessible for out-of-town visitors. The AWM will occupy the second floor. Vivid signage on Lake and Michigan will attract people to the museum.
AFG: Will the museum house a library?
MO: The museum will have books associated with various exhibits, but there will not be a library. People go to museums go to look and listen rather than read. As visitors move through the museum, they will be able to use an electronic pen to tap on books they would like to read or writers they would like to learn more about. The information will be waiting on their computer when they get home. We hope that they will go to their library to check out the books they put on their list.
AFG: Did the estates of authors have some input on how the exhibits were presented?
MO: We have had input from directors of our Affiliate Author homes but not from estates at this point.