The American Writers Museum: Isn’t It About Time?
A few months ago I was pleased to learn about a wonderful new endeavor underway, described by its creator and founder, Malcolm O’Hagan, as “a movement.”
The movement is, in the words of the mission statement of the American Writers Museum Foundation, “to establish the first national museum in the United States dedicated to engaging the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.”
Like many great ideas, one of the most surprising things about this one is that such a museum doesn’t already exist. In fact, the way the idea came to Mr. O’Hagan was that he had returned to the U.S. from a visit to his native Ireland, where he had visited the Dublin Writers Museum. He started asking people where the American Writers Museum was and, when the only answer he got to his question was blank stares and puzzled looks, he decided to do something about it.
The somewhat astonishing fact is, that out of approximately 17,500 museums in this country, not a single one (yet) is devoted to a comprehensive overview of American writers, their work, and “their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.”
So it is that an Irish immigrant began the movement to create an American Writers Museum. Another wonderful American story in the making!
That was a few years ago. What began with one man’s inspirational idea has grown rapidly under his expert leadership, and with his extraordinary commitment to it. The AWM Foundation, now a nonprofit organization with 501c3 status, has endorsements from a stellar list of leaders of the literary world, business, and government, as well as enthusiastic popular support. The search is underway for a location for the future museum: Chicago is the current front-runner but after a recent visit Mr. O’Hagan made to Minnesota, St. Paul officials are lobbying hard to be considered for the honor too. Other cities that would love to be home to such a museum are also under consideration.
Naturally, the AWM Foundation needs money, lots of it, in order to get this project off the ground. (The fact that Mr. O’Hagan has launched this effort in the middle of one of the worst recessions in recent history reminds me of Sylvia Beach going to Paris in the middle of World War I because she “wanted to study French literature.” Quixotic, perhaps, but also completely endearing: and the act of someone who truly loves literature!) Yet for all that, O’Hagan’s calm, matter-of-fact belief in the inevitably of the museum seems completely reasonable, and inspires confidence that indeed this great endeavor will succeed.
It’s an exciting time for anyone interested in such a museum to share their thoughts about where it should be, what (and who) should be in it, and what kinds of programs and exhibits you’d like to see when it’s built. You can fill out the AWM Foundation’s online survey here, sharing your thoughts about what you’d like to see in the American Writers Museum.
The AWM website has lots more information for those who would like to know more. The American Writers Foundation hopes you will visit, share your thoughts, join the movement, and spread the word!
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland. She teaches literature courses in Paris, Hawaii, and Cuba for the Education Abroad program at Queens College, CUNY, and twice a year she offers Writing from the Heart workshops in a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France. She has enthusiastically joined the movement to create The American Writers Museum. You can follow her tweets for AWM here.