Visiting the American Writers Museum

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The American Writers Museum, which opened in May 2017, is an 11,000 sq. ft. treasure store of displays and information that will delight people interested in the vital role that writing has played in the nation’s history. Ireland’s Dublin Writers Museum was the inspiration for the AWM.

Looking up at the ceiling beyond the entrance reveals a unique display. Dozens of books are attached, front covers downward, to metal arms. Covers with similar color schemes are grouped side-by-side on the arms. The effect is that of a rainbow.

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Instead of being a musty repository of manuscripts and first editions, the AWM features interactive touch screens and multimedia installations that draw the viewer into the lives and works of the authors. A large video screen that occupies one wall cycles through short presentations on American novelists and poets, from all around the country.

 

Past the video screen is a long hallway. On the left, beneath a timeline of significant events in American history, is a row of displays on deceased writers whose careers span from colonial days to the Twenty-First Century. For each there is a three-paneled spinner. One side features a painting, drawing or photograph of the author in question; the next side is a quotation from their work; the last panel contains a thumbnail biography. More general background information is located below the spinners.

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On the opposite side of the hall there’s a white wall with book-shaped projections, each labeled with a writer’s name and life dates. The “covers” open to reveal not only text but other insights. For instance, opening Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” occasionally releases the aroma of fresh-baked cookies!

At the far end of the aforementioned hallway one finds the “Word Waterfall.” Its a display of densely packed, seemingly random words that, by means of a constantly looping light projection, is shown to contain key literary quotations.

The American Writers Museum isn’t just for adults. There is a children’s literature gallery lined with wall-sized illustrations of famous books’ cover art and cozy couches. The room has a collection of “kiddy lit” classics through which anyone can leaf.

The museum also has a room for mounting traveling literature exhibits. When I was there the 120-foot scroll on which Jack Kerouac banged out “On the Road,” and the typed manuscript of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” were on display.

I believe many people will find the AWM an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

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