The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Museum Worth Writing Home About

Mystery Writers by flickr user Nanagyei

The last time Malcolm O’Hagan visited the Dublin Writers Museum in his native Ireland, he returned to the U.S. wondering about the museum’s American counterpart. Much to his surprise, he discovered it didn’t exist. “There are a number of author homes, which are wonderful, but there's no place where it sort of all comes together in one place,” he said. “[Our museums] focus on and honor baseball players and basketball players and football players and cowboys, but there's no place where the writers are the focus.” And so, after a successful career as a manufacturing executive, O’Hagan has dedicated his retirement to ensuring that such a place is built.

Although the American Writers Museum is still in its planning phases, the American Writers Museum Foundation (AWMF) has already received funding, including a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to aid with these early preparatory stages. The organization’s website has begun to showcase online exhibits, and a detailed concept plan was released earlier this summer that outlines the mission and layout for the museum. O’Hagan, who serves as chairman of AWMF’s board of directors, hopes that the first phase of the 60,000-square-foot museum will open in 2015, as a place to explore the impact of literature on the country’s history and culture.

The museum is expected to make its home in Chicago, a city chosen for its central location and rich literary history. It will not be a collecting institution, but rather will focus on the experience of visitors through audio, video, interactive surfaces, and social and performance spaces. “You can read ‘We Real Cool’ on the page, but when you hear Gwendolyn Brooks recite it, it's a whole different experience,” O’Hagan said. “So the museum can add a third dimension to the experience with video in addition to sound and artifacts and context.”

Although the institution will take advantage of new technologies, O’Hagan maintains that at its heart, the museum will answer a basic need that predates interpretative bells and whistles: the desire to discuss and share the books we love with others. “While reading itself is solitary, I think there's a huge interest in sharing in a social way the experience of the book or the poem or the play,” he said. “It's wonderful to share experiences in book clubs and book festivals and hopefully, one day in the American Writers Museum.”

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