It took a foreign-born citizen—Malcolm O'Hagan, an Irish immigrant—to notice that of the roughly 35,000 museums in our country, none was dedicated to those word artists, American authors. Seven years after O'Hagan set out to create such a space, the American Writers Museum, in downtown Chicago, opens its doors. Far from being a hushed and dusty archive, the venue is more of a bibliophile's Disney World. It features interactive, immersive exhibits worthy of the VR set (an eight-foot touch-screen table with a river of icons flowing down the middle to reveal, say, Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher, complete with textual allusions, backstories, and audio links), as well as old-school artifacts, such as Jack Kerouac's original manuscript of On the Road, typed on a 120-foot-long scroll. "We didn't want a book under a pane of glass," says museum president Carey Cranston, "but something exciting that would draw people of all ages and kinds." One of our favorite footnotes: comfy couches here and there on which to cozy up and read about the rich tradition of writing all around us, from California to the New York island.


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