Today I made my first visit to the American Writers Museum, which opened at 180 N. Michigan last month. It certainly is an honor to have the only national museum of its kind located in Chicago. My friend Roberta Rubin, the former owner of The Book Stall bookstore in Winnetka and truly one of the great literary advocates in the Chicago area, is one of the key individuals in making this museum a reality. It was extremely gratifying to see “The Roberta Rubin Writer’s Room” which is currently exhibiting Jack Kerouac’s original scroll for On the Road.
Since the museum space is only 11,000 square feet, there are physical limitations as to display options. Digitally the museum is state-of-the-art. There are very nice rooms dedicated to children’s literature and Chicago authors. In the Writers Hall, one wall features 100 American deceased writers; the other wall displays 100 American literary works. However I felt that both these walls, at times, seemed to use historical and political considerations, over literary significance, as criteria in the selection of these writers and books. I would have also liked to see a little more of the personal touch in the museum’s permanent collection. For instance, perhaps something on the order of a desk on which Emily Dickinson composed some of her poetry, or maybe the walking boots that John Muir wore on the nature walks that inspired his books. Also, permanent exhibits of universally acknowledged great American living writers such as Philip Roth and Toni Morrison might be a nice added touch. Nevertheless, the American Writers Museum is a work in progress and worthy of our support. The Chicago literary community should rally on its behalf by promoting it among friends and family, as well as providing positive input on future programming to its staff.