June 29, 2011

New Museum dedicated to writers to open in Chicago…eventually


According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago is, quite literally, about to cement its reputation as a hub for writing in the US.

Irish engineer and businessman Malcolm O’Hagan plans to open the American Writers Museum in Chicago…as soon as he can raise the funds.

We’ve written about O’Hagen before — see this earlier MobyLives story, which mentions Chicago’s early interest in the project, and the fact that Melville House author and translator David Kipen is on the Museum’s board. But as Sandra M. Jones notes in her report for the Tribune, the museum would also be the latest in a string of institutions to open in Chicago devoted to writing and literature:

The writing museum is taking shape just as the Poetry Foundation opens its showcase $21.5 million building in River North this weekend, drawing prominent poets from across the country. The once little-known poetry magazine gained national attention in 2002 when pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly donated an unprecedented $200 million to the publication.

As headquarters for the American Library Association, Chicago is the center for the nation’s librarians. It is also home to a long list of famous American writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Saul Bellow to Raymond Chandler.

Asked why Chicago was his choice to be the home for the first such museum in America devoted to writers, O’Hagan replied that, “When I grew up in Ireland, it was Chicago I would think of as the real America.”

Though no site has been chosen, O’Hagan is currently looking for a temporary home for the Museum. Once a site is found, he expects the initial phase of building to cost between $20 and $30 million.

The odd fact that there is no museum in the US currently devoted to American writers of all stripes was illustrated by Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums. ”We have museums for virtually everything else, for spotted dogs, for teacups,” he said. “There’s even a museum for Jell-O.”

If you’re interested in helping out, there is a foundation set up to raise funds at AmericanWritersMuseum.org. You can also follow them on Twitter.