Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, Tupac Shakur's song "Dear Mama," Patrick Henry's speech "Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death" – what do they all have in common? They all rank among the nation's great works of writing, and they're all celebrated at the new American Writers Museum (AWM) in downtown Chicago, this year's 10Best Readers' Choice winner for Best Attraction in Illinois.
The museum opened its doors in May of 2017 as the first museum in the United States dedicated to America's writers and works. After an inspiring visit to the Dublin Writers Museum in Ireland, AWM founder Malcolm O'Hagan was surprised to find that nothing similar existed in the U.S.
Almost a decade later, his idea became an 11,000-square-foot reality on Chicago's Cultural Mile.
American Voices exhibit at Chicago's American Writers Museum — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
And don't be mistaken. This museum is definitely not your neighborhood public library. Instead, it's a highly engaging space where visitors are encouraged to interact with their favorite writers and works, as well as the writing process, from the day-to-day routines of famous writers to the actual act of story creation.
"The American Writers Museum can only be fully appreciated when you are actually in the space," O'Hagan told 10Best. "The AWM is so different from all our conceptions that you have to be in the museum to feel its magic."
AWM's Surprise Bookshelf — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
Interactive touchscreens allow book lovers to learn about writers from their home state or dig deep into famous masterworks in American literary history. The "Surprise Bookshelf" showcases 100 samples of iconic American writing, from song lyrics and poems to novels and newspapers, while the 60-foot "American Voices" exhibit recounts the history and development of the American voice.
Visitors can type out their own stories on vintage typewriters or add to the museum's story of the day, glean tips from the masters for their own writing, compare their favorite works to those of other museum visitors or even challenge a friend to a literary-inspired Mad Libs-style game.
Behind a title on the Surprise Bookshelf — Photo courtesy of Lydia Schrandt
"What I love is the fact that each exhibit hall is so different in focus, in content, in design, in degree of interactivity," said O'Hagan when asked about his favorite exhibit. "In addition to celebrating great writers and their works, the museum is visually stunning – in many ways a work of art."
Readers' Choice: 50 states, 50 winning attractions