Bookish Places

Repost – Chicago: American Writers Museum

*This post was originally written for my travel blog, Fernweh Follies.*

This post is going to be a throwback to 2018 because the start of 2019 has been a little hectic.

You might be thinking, yo Erica, that month-long plus hiatus, what was that?! What can I say? I’ve been living my life offline a little more and I’m liking it.

This year, I plan on living it up so I have more awesome stories to tell you about the epic city of Chicago (and hopefully some far-off places too). This means I probably won’t post every week, but that’s life.

I hope you like the things I find, but in the end, I’m going to write these stories no matter what. So, keep living a life worth writing about friends 🙂 

It was the Friday before Christmas, and Chicago was still–off the Granville stop anyways. Everyone seemed to be leaving the city instead of staying in it. On Thursday evening, more people were taking the 95th instead of the Howard at 5:00 PM. Ubers and Lyfts were all heading to Midway or O’Hare. Yet, there I was, alone in my three-bedroom apartment. I still had two days until my flight left Midway and I could start my Christmas vacation.

With my job, I have Fridays all to myself, and seeing as half the city had disappeared into the cold December air, I was going to make December 21st a day to remember. I turned to my ever trusty friend, Google, and dove into the wonderful rabbit hole of Chicago’s quirky museums.

I grew up with parents that liked to fill their kids’ heads with perpetual nonsense and trivia by taking them to museums, so finding a good museum always gives me a sense of comfort.

When I discovered the American Writers Museum, I knew I had found a personal safe haven in Chicago.

Taking up the entire second floor of 180 N. Michigan, the American Writers Museum is sandwiched between floors of corporate offices, like a flower pressed inside of a book. The museum’s location is so hidden in plain sight that I walked past the building twice before noticing the brass sign for the museum.

The first gallery I entered was one of the temporary exhibits called Bob Dylan: Electric. I had forgotten that Dylan received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, and while I personally find gifting a writer of lyrics an award for writers of literature a bit of a stretch, I was still intrigued.


My favorite piece in the exhibit was Dylan’s marked up copy of Catcher in the Rye. Next to the copy was a quote from Dylan saying, “a lonely kid…who ran away and decided everyone else was phony. I must have identified with him.”

This silly beaten-up copy of a classic covered in Dylan’s scratchy penmanship reminded me of literature’s universal nature. A rock and roll star can take away the same message and feel the same connection as an introverted high schooler reading a book for class. There’s a camaraderie in that connection that makes the world feel a little bit closer.

I worked my way next into the Children’s Literature Gallery. This room gave me the same sense of joy and nostalgia I always get when I walk into the kid’s department at Barnes and Noble. It was bright and covered in characters from iconic stories like the Wizard of Oz and Charlotte’s Web.

Each display was interactive and focused on a specific children’s classic. The playful nature of the gallery helped kids understand the importance of the books they were learning about. The best one in my opinion was the “Which Little Woman are You?” display. I will always and forever be Jo.

As you work your way further into the museum you’re sucked into an extensive and–again– interactive timeline of American writers. I stumbled upon the poet Anne Bradstreet while looking at this exhibit. I hadn’t read her work since a very in-depth project I did my junior year of high school, but it reminded me how much I actually enjoyed her work as I re-read her poem, “My Dear and Loving Husband” at the museum.

Write-ups about Abigail Adams, Edgar Allen Poe, and even the jazz era kept me engrossed until I found myself in the Mind of a Writer Gallery. This section of the museum was byfar my favorite.

When you first walk into the gallery, you are met by twenty or so typewriters waiting for the inspired to type away on their keys. Half finished stories were on each, ready for the next eager mind to contribute. Next is the Writer Routine display which digitally pairs you with different writers based on certain  daily habits.

According to my answers, I have the late night writing habits of poet Charles Bukowski, a shared interest in baking with poet Emily Dickinson, an interest in a six-toed cat companion like Ernest Hemingway, and the same snack tastes as HP Lovecraft (Lovecraft was a stretch. I was just curious who fueled themselves with doughnuts and a hunk of cheese on the daily).

If all of the exhibits I mentioned before hadn’t inspired the writer in me enough, the Chicago Gallery did me in. Banners with the faces of the poets, journalists, and playwrights of this city stood in front of me like an army:

Sherwood Anderson

Ann Landers

Mike Royko

I’m live in a city known for its writers; generations of dreamers that use paper and pen as their weapon of choice. As a writer myself, what a humbling and awesome thing to realize.

If this museum sounds like a place you don’t want to miss, consider buying your ticket through the American Writers Museum website. Tickets are typically $12.00, but if you go through their website and sign up for the monthly newsletter, you get 20% off your purchase.

If you have a love for books, or are a writer yourself, please check this place out. While compact and unassuming, The American Writers Museum is worth every minute and penny you spend there.

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