American Writers Museum

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Timeline

This year the American Writers Museum in Chicago on Michigan Avenue. It was high time I visited so despite the rain and cold, I took a friend from Milwaukee to explore it.

After showing our tickets, which I bought online and got a 20% discount on, we were directed to start our visit on the right where there is a timeline of American writers.

If you look up on the left and you’ll see a timeline of American history. Under that is the main exhibit showing a chronological series of portraits of significant American writers. When you turn the panel, which has three sides, you’ll find more information and background about each writer. Below is information on a well designed panel about various literary movements or authors. It’s a lot of reading, but its well presented. Also, the curators seem to have made an effort to present authors from all backgrounds. Across from the time line is a wall of squares with author’s quotations. The squares move to reveal an panel with more information or a video.

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Parallel to the gallery with the timeline was a photo exhibit on biographies, written by or on authors or celebrities along with their photos. The black and white photos of 50+ years ago were my favorite. There’s something about the crisp gradations and the styles of bygone eras that we just don’t see much anymore.

The next room I saw was the Readers Room which focuses on reading. It highlights different kinds of reading, such as educational, newspapers, magazines and more. There are two interactive screens where you can submit your favorite authors and see the most popular authors or books other visitors have chosen.

Another gallery had a small exhibit on Laura Ingles Wilder with biographical information, maps of where each of her books was set, depiction of her work in other formats and critical responses to her works.

The museum has a table with different typewriters, from the earliest kind to Selectric to a laptop. People were pounding away at the old typewriters while the laptop wasn’t used while I was there.

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Quotation, Octavia Butler

Then there was an exhibit on the skills of writing with interactive exhibits on specificity, making prose active and such.

Finally, there was an area dedicated to Chicago writers like Saul Bellow, Ida B. Wells, Mike Royko, Ring Larder, Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, Theodore Dreiser, Peter Finley Dunne and many more. Here you could listen to short recordings of their work and see these turnable banners with their portraits and information on their work.

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Each month the museum offers several programs including public readings. The staff was very helpful as we went through the galleries. They’d point out little things like the mural in the children’s room which had squirrels in a tree reading Caldecott award winning books and each squirrel had some element that related to the story it was reading. For example, the squirrel reading Charlotte’s Web, had a wisp of a web hanging over it.

All in all, I give the museum a thumbs up and will be back. I’d say allow an hour to get through the museum. If there’s a program, add more time.

Tickets: Adults $12, Students $8, discounts for children and seniors.

 

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A Kindred Spirit

By serendipity, I just discovered this smart, engaging woman’s vlog on books and writing. Farah lives in the UAE and is articulate, perceptive and oh so knowledgeable about current books.

After the first video I watched (above) I immediately subscribed. Then I watched her talk about writing and bonded with her because as a screenwriter, I am concise with description and context and get right to the dialog.

According to her Good Reads account she reads 100 books or more a year. Wow. I envy that. I have to update my Good Reads, but I aim for 26 books a year.

Above Farah talks about the 5 classics she wants to read this year. Some she probably finished by now.

Here’s my list of classics I have read this year:

  1. Dante’s Inferno – a reread and a delight. I got a lot more out of it.
  2. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington – just started so watch this blog for a review.
  3. His Excellency by Émile Zola – the third book I’ve read in the Rougon-Macquart series.
  4. The Kill by Émile Zola – my goal is to read all 20 of these Rougon-Macuart books.
  5. Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus – It was a classic I missed though I knew the legend.
  6. The Lady of the Camilias by Alexander Dumas, the Younger – it reminded me of The Kill.
  7. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I reread this and discussed it online with a friend, with whom I try to read a classic and discuss it online each summer.

 

Fr. Laurence, Why?

For my online book club we read Romeo and Juliet, which my students are now reading as well. Once I get to Act 4, I want to just ask Friar Laurence why on earth he thought this plan with Juliet taking a sleeping drug would work. Why not tell her parents, Friar? Since she’s already consummated her marriage to Romeo, wouldn’t the Capulets and the Montagues have to make the best of things?

The Friar even tells Paris he doesn’t like the hasty marriage to Juliet. That’s a great start. Just tell the truth or if he’s such a coward, tell the parents they have to wait a certain amount of time after Tybalt’s death to marry. Then have them tell the truth. One of them would get the courage to.

I realize Shakespeare took the story from another source, a poem by Arthur Brooke and he saw that it had a lot of powerful elements, but there are some glaring mistakes in the plot.

Plagues, Witches & Wars: A Good Class

I’ve started a fascinating class in historical fiction, for readers or writers, through Coursera. It’s called Plagues,Witches & Wars: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. It’s free and offered through Coursera by the University of Virginia. I’m just in week 2 and am learning about the roots of historical fiction.

The professor is knowledgeable and the lessons for each week come in 10-20 minute lengths, perfect for little gaps of time.

If you want to learn about a particular subject, you can browse Coursera, which has lots of courses in all areas. Some you must pay for and some offer a certificate if you pay.

Let me know in the comments if you see something interesting and sign up for it.

Diary of a Mad Old Man

old man Junichiro Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man is just what the title says. Well, he’s not completely mad. The main character is an old man obsessed with his daughter in law, a former cabaret singer, whose husband’s grown tired of her.

The old man is sickly and most of his life is spent going to doctors and taking medication. His infatuation of Satsuko, the daughter in law who leads him on, but doesn’t let him do mor e than kiss her legs or eventually her neck, gets him to buy her jewels and later a pool. She’s got a lover and a fondness for Western fashion. It’s an interesting look at desire mixed with a battle against a failing body.

A quick read, the book provides an interesting glimpse of Japan in the post-WWII period when the Japanese were starting to prosper. Old age (over 75) is largely ignored by writers. This novel rings true as a chronicle of a man with his wits about him who’s able to analyze his actions and his family. He’s aware of how Satsuko, the daughter-in-law operates.

Poem of the Week

The Meeting

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

After so long an absence
At last we meet again:
Does the meeting give us pleasure,
Or does it give us pain?

The tree of life has been shaken,
And but few of us linger now,
Like the Prophet’s two or three berries
In the top of the uttermost bough.

We cordially greet each other
In the old, familiar tone;
And we think, though we do not say it,
How old and gray he is grown!

We speak of a Merry Christmas
And many a Happy New Year
But each in his heart is thinking
Of those that are not here.

We speak of friends and their fortunes,
And of what they did and said,
Till the dead alone seem living,
And the living alone seem dead.

And at last we hardly distinguish
Between the ghosts and the guests;
And a mist and shadow of sadness
Steals over our merriest jests.

“The Meeting” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.