People have long associated certain cities with writers and literary history (ahem, Paris). While Chicago, in contrast, usually evokes images of deep-dish pizza, sports, comedy clubs, and public art, literature also has deep roots in this Midwestern city. Whether you’re planning to travel to Chicago for the pizza or are more about the blues, you’ll quickly see that poetry still thrives in Chi-town today, and there are various literary locations to visit as you explore the Windy City.
2022 Chicago travel guide for all things literature
The Poetry Foundation is the publisher of Poetry magazine, founded in 1912 by a freelance writer named Harriet Monroe. Over the years, the magazine has published the works of Ezra Pound, Carl Sandburg, T.S. Eliot, and other literary giants.
In 2011, the Poetry Foundation building opened with the goal of recognizing great poetry and sharing it with large audiences. The building is home to an exhibition gallery, a 30,000-volume poetry library, offices, and a space for public events, which include film screenings, book groups, discussions, poetry readings, and writing workshops. The Poetry Foundation Library is the only library in the Midwest exclusively focused on this type of literature.
Hours: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Friday
Address: 61 West Superior St.
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Devoted to supporting Chicago poetry, the Chicago Poetry Center is a not-for-profit organization that shares poetry with the community through various programs, many of which take place in the city’s schools. But one program everyone can enjoy is the Six Points Reading Series, which brings local, national, and international writers to rotating venues in the city for free readings that are open to the public.
This museum is aimed at inspiring people to take an interest in reading and writing. With interactive and innovative exhibits, visitors can gain a better understanding of how writers’ minds work, discover more about beloved American writers, and understand the impact writers have had on American history and culture.
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Thursday
Address: 180 N. Michigan Avenue
What started as a book fair in 1985 has evolved into a literary festival that attracts more than 125,000 people each year, the largest event of its kind in the Midwest. At this two-day festival, guests can purchase books, discuss novels, and attend events focused on literature, including talks given by well-known writers.
2018 festival dates: June 9-10
Address: Dearborn and Polk Street between Harrison and Polk
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Poet Gwendolyn Brooks grew up in Chicago and became the first African-American author to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950. She was appointed to the Library of Congress as a poetry consultant and was the Illinois poet laureate for more than 30 years. Now, she has been honored with a statue in the Chicago park that is named after her: Gwendolyn Brooks Park. Celebrate her work by visiting the statue, which is one of the city’s few works of public art honoring an African-American woman..
Hours: 6 a.m. — 9 p.m. every day
Address: 4542 South Greenwood Avenue
The Newberry is an independent research library that offers free exhibits and events to the public — from writing workshops to panel discussions and music performances. The library also hosts several ongoing event series, including Meet the Author talks, and annual events like the Newberry Book Fair, one of the biggest used book sales in the United States.
Hours: Exhibition galleries open 8:15 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Address: 60 West Walton Street
Located in the Wicker Park neighborhood, Myopic Books is a popular bookstore with more than 70,000 books on its shelves. The store also hosts free live music and poetry readings. Poetry readings are held at 7 p.m. on select Saturdays on the store’s second floor, and live music is offered every Monday at 7:30 p.m..
Hours: 9 a.m. – 11 p.m. every day
Address: 1564 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Open Books is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting literacy. Much of the organization’s money comes from sales made at its bookstores, including Open Books West Loop. This location, with its 50,000 used books, includes many options for kids and young adults, hosts various readings and book clubs, and provides plenty of space to sit down and read. The Pilsen location also has a large selection of books in a warehouse-style setup, including Chicago’s only collection of used books published in Spanish. When you shop at these stores, you’re helping support the organization’s literacy efforts in the local community.
Open Books West Loop
Hours: 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. Monday – Saturday, noon – 6 p.m. on Sundays
Address: 651 West Lake St.
Open Books Pilsen
Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Address: 905 W. 19th St.
If you want to attend a poetry slam while in Chicago, Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, located at 4802 N. Broadway Avenue, is one of the most exciting venues to check out. This lounge hosts weekly slam poetry events, called Uptown Poetry Slams, on Sundays from 7-10 p.m. Uptown Poetry Slam was founded in 1986 and still takes place every week.
On a less regular basis, you’ll find poetry open mic events at the Hideout and other locations throughout the city as well.
If you’re a dedicated bibliophile, you might consider visiting the home that inspired Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” The building is designated as a city landmark, but it’s not open to visitors. Still, if you find yourself in the area, it’s worth walking by. You can also check out the house poet and journalist Carl Sandburg lived in on 4646 N. Hermitage Avenue, though it also is not open to the public.
Address: 6140 South Rhodes Avenue
If Hemingway didn’t live there at one point, is it really a literary location? Just outside of Chicago in Oak Park, Illinois, you can visit the very first locale Hemingway called home, living there during the first six years of his life. The house has been restored to retain its Victorian heritage and resemble the residence that Hemingway was born in years ago. The museum offers guided tours that educate visitors on Hemingway’s early life in Oak Park and the impact it had on him and his work. Tours cost $15 for adults and begin every hour.
Hours: 1 — 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Saturdays
Address: 339 North Oak Park Avenue (in Oak Park, Illinois)
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Cover Photo by Sawyer Bengtson
Now that you’ve gotten your literary to-do list lined out, perhaps you’re looking for a place to write? This Chicago travel guide has you covered with the best writing spots in the Windy City. And if you’re looking for more of a global element to add to your Chicago, Illinois travel guide? Check out the city’s amazing diversity and Travel Around the World in Chicago With This Globally Inspired Itinerary.