Curating a New Literary Canon


Who would you put in a museum of the best American writers? Hemingway? Kerouac? Bukowski? Note those are all white guys. The author visits a new museum devoted to writers to ponder the question of “who (and what) deserves to be in America’s first museum dedicated to writers?”

Walking through Chicago’s new American Writers Museum a week before it opened to the public, I felt like a cross between that eleven-year-old (wide-eyed, thirstily trying to absorb the canon, inspired by history) and that twenty-one-year-old (tallying up gender and race and queerness on the 100-author “American Voices” wall of fame and doing some quick math).

The museum’s creators faced an impossible task, the same one undertaken perennially by anthologists and English professors: How can we represent four hundred years of American literary history in a way that doesn’t reinforce the unfortunate hierarchies of those four hundred years?

Electric Literature

Image: Painting by Brianna Keeper

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