We find ourselves in a time when questions surrounding American identity — What is “Americanness” and who has the right to call him- or herself an American? — seem to lurk under the daily headlines, taking up a refrain that has been repeated throughout this nation’s history. In some ways, then, this is the moment when a museum celebrating the writer’s role to define American identity is most necessary. Yet it is also the moment when such a project becomes most challenging and fraught.
Before visiting the new American Writers Museum in Chicago (opened May 2017), I wondered how a museum with the stated mission “to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives” could deliver on this goal. Even putting aside this contested territory of Americanness, our fractured sense of what constitutes a cohesive “history” or “culture,” how, on a practical level, does one even go about creating a museum to the written word? As a writer, I’d like to believe that words and books are alive and inherently resist being pinned down inside a glass case like so many specimens of rare butterflies.
2016 has seen a wealth of Shakespeare-related programming, performances, carefully timed book releases, and even a special hashtag, all in observance of the 400-year anniversary of the Bard's death in April 1616. Now that the dust of this international ferment has more or less settled, the Toledo Museum of Art offers up its own variation on the theme, with Shakespeare's Characters: Playing the Part. Promising to "bring the beloved writer's works to life," this exhibition engages visitors well beyond the works and their iconic roles, where the characters serve as diverse points of entry into a multidisciplinary exploration of Shakespeare's far-reaching influence.
Publication announcements, bookish items of note and the occasional literary musing.