Once declared the “literary capital of the United States” and the “journalistic Yellowstone Park,” by reporter H.L. Mencken and screenwriter Ben Hecht, respectively, Chicago attracts writers, readers and purveyors of the written word, who visit the Windy City to walk in the footsteps of their favorite local literary laureates. From Ernest Hemingway and Nelson Algren to the Poetry Foundation and American Writers Museum, Chicago serves as a perfect day-trip for lovers of literature.
While there are so many landmarks and locales worth delving into during your literary tour of the city (and its surrounding communities), here is a list of some of the homes once occupied by iconic authors, bars and restaurants that pay homage to the written word, and centers that celebrate the life and times of your favorite writers and poets.
Hemingway Birthplace Home
339 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park
Nestled in an Oak Park neighborhood, the birthplace and childhood home of prolific writer Ernest Hemingway has been meticulously restored and furnished to fit its 1890s heritage. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author spent the first six years of his life in the Queen Anne Victorian home, where he learned the art of storytelling from his live-in grandfather. The house museum’s artifacts include Hemingway’s childhood diary and the famous letter that ended his engagement to nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, portrayed in Hemingway’s novel “A Farewell to Arms.”
Lorraine Hansberry House
6140 S. Rhodes Ave., Chicago (Northwest Woodlawn)
Granted landmark status in 2010 by the Chicago City Council, the home of Lorraine Hansberry is a site of literary and historical significance as it pertains to Civil Rights.
Hansberry’s experience growing up in a white south side neighborhood during legally enforced segregation is what inspired the African-American playwright to pen the groundbreaking play “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Ray Bradbury Waukegan Home
S. St. James St., Waukegan
Ray Bradbury – author of more than 500 published works, including dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451” – grew up in suburban Waukegan. The author even set his 1957 novel “Dandelion Wine” in the fictitious town of Green Town, Illinois, which is based heavily on his boyhood home. In 2020, The Ray Bradbury Museum is set to open in downtown Waukegan, with plans to eventually move the museum to the historic Carnegie Library, 1 N. Sheridan Road, which has been featured in many of Bradbury’s books, including “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”
Wicker Park residence
1958 W. Evergreen Ave., Chicago
In 1950, Nelson Algren won the first National Book Award for “The Man With The Golden Arm.” The three-floor walkup in Wicker Park, where the controversial novelist spent 15 years writing (and romancing famous French writer and feminist Simone de Beauvoir) is still standing – a small plaque identifying its literary significance is suited for street-side viewing only. Various neighborhood landmarks pay homage to the writer, including a memorial fountain in the Polonia Triangle.
Carl Sandburg Ravenswood Home
4646 N. Hermitage Ave., Chicago
Carl Sandburg may have started from humble beginnings, but he went on to achieve international acclaim for his writing, including Pulitzer prizes in poetry and history. The author and poet lived in the second-floor apartment of a two-story house in residential Ravenswood, where he covered the city’s race riots and wrote his most famous poem, “Chicago,” published in 1915.
Carl Sandburg State Historic Site
331 E. Third St., Galesburg
Carl Sandburg moved to Chicago in 1912, but he was born in a three-room cottage in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1878. A driving tour map of Galesburg featuring Sandburg’s old haunts is available at sandburg.org. The tour includes homes where he grew up; the Brooks Street Fire Station, where he groomed horses and maintained the wagons in the early 1900’s; the Lombard College Campus where he began his writing career; and other locales that influenced his life and writing.
Bookish bars & restaurants
Red Lion Pub
2446 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago
Tudor beams, multiple fireplaces and shelves filled with books delving into British history and literature are the foundation of the very British Red Lion Pub in Lincoln Park.
Lady Gregory's Irish Pubs
5260 N. Clark St., Chicago
1525 N. Wells St., Chicago
Named after Irish author Lady Gregory August, who co-founded the Irish Literary Theatre and Abbey Theatre with another famous writer, William Butler Yeats, the restaurant and pub has two locations, each oozing Irish charm. Each location offers a nook filled with books, a cozy fireplace and dark wood for just the right atmosphere for contemplating great literary works while sipping a pint of Guinness or glass of wine. Offering lunch and dinner menus, vegetarian and gluten-free options are also available to appease just about any palate.
The Library at Gilt Bar
230 W. Kedzie St., Chicago
If you are in the mood for a cozy, dark lounge filled with vintage books, head over to The Library, situated in the lower level of the Gilt Bar. It’s all about atmosphere here, from low lighting to dark wood furniture, but it also offers Gilt Bar’s classic craft cocktails and contemporary American cuisine. While absorbing the literary feel surrounding you, try one of The Library’s tasty starters, such as the tenderloin steak tartare or charred Spanish octopus. Entrée offerings include pasta, like short rib stroganoff or ricotta gnocchi, and slow-roasted pork belly and double cut coal-fired rib-eye. And when you’re ready to discuss the depth of wordsmiths Oscar Wilde or James Joyce, do so with a house cocktail, like a Whiskey Sour (bourbon, lemon, egg white) or French 76 (gin, lemon, prosecco) in hand.
American Writers Museum
180 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
The only one of its kind in the nation, the Magnificent Mile-located museum celebrates American writers while exploring their influence on the country’s history, identity and culture. Since its 2017 opening, AWM has racked up all sorts of awards, including taking the top spot in the USA TODAY Readers’ Choice awards for Best Illinois Attractions, and it also was featured in the article “Inside the World’s 10 Best New Museums” by Fodor's Travel.
Harold Washington Library Center
400 S. State St., Chicago
Named after the city’s first African-American mayor, the south Loop-located Harold Washington Library Center is the main library of the Chicago Public Library System. This architectural gem offers rotating exhibits featuring Chicago history and local artists. Its Top 10 things to do list includes a visit to the ninth floor winter garden; rubbing elbows with literary favorites during its author speaker series; and bringing the family to enjoy a story time, creative workshops and drop-in demonstrations.
The Poetry Foundation
61 W. Superior St., Chicago
Publisher of “Poetry” magazine, The Poetry Foundation is an independent literary organization intended to celebrate the genre through a variety of programs and free events throughout the year. Its library is the Midwest’s only library solely dedicated to poetry, and houses a collection of 30,000 volumes, offers poetry-related exhibits and private listening booths for audio and video recordings of poets reading their work. Gallery exhibitions offer an opportunity for visitors to delve into the life of a particular poet or highlight a collection that reflects the mood of the country, such as a recent exhibit on social unrest.
Compiled by Chris Walker
A Book Above
136 W. Vallette St., Ste. 6, Elmhurst
It’s easy to find a copy of Robert Munsch’s “Love You Forever,” one of the best-selling and most popular kids’ books of all time, but what about other wonderful books for children? Carolyn Carrillo struggled for many years to find a place that sold great books for her children. Finally, she gave up and decided to she would have to find them herself and to also offer them to other parents at her own book store, “A Book Above.” Her handpicked selections include books on sports, parenting, literacy, nutrition, special needs, autism and more to help children gain a love for reading and books and to inspire them to pursue their dreams.
Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
7419 Madison St. Forest Park
It’s easy to discuss the movie-going experience with others who pack a theater, but unless you’re the oddest of the odd you’re not going to read a book over someone’s shoulder. It’s unfortunate that it’s not easy for readers to find an outlet to express their feelings about a book with others. Imagine how cool it would be to share your feelings and even ask questions of the author? The experience offered at Centuries & Sleuths is more than finding historical era, international and local mysteries, it’s also gathering with others in the five assorted reader/writer discussion groups that meet regularly and the frequent author events.
43 E. Galena Blvd. Aurora
“Karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon, you come and go, you come and go…” They do come and go to Culture Stock and you might even find a Culture Club CD or LP amongst its large selection which includes thousands of books and more They also host poetry readings and live music Monday nights have been popular so you might even be lucky enough to hear someone cover Boy George. If you’re looking for a place to hang out that promotes culture and literacy, you’ll find it in downtown Aurora here. More than a bookstore, Culture Stock is a unique cultural center that also serves as a used book and media reseller.
123 W. Jefferson St., Naperville
5112 Main St., Downers Grove
26 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange
When Anderson’s first starting selling books in W.W.Wickel Pharmacy in Naperville in 1875, people rarely could read at night because Thomas Edison had yet to invent the electric lamp! Now, we live in an era where many bibliophiles are engulfed by books in electronic form. Despite the technology changes during the past 143 years, those looking for books can still find them at Anderson’s three locations. Anderson’s is more than a store to buy books with countless special events, book clubs and you-name-it. While Powell’s in Portland, Ore., is the world’s largest independent bookstore, you’d win many arguments by considering Anderson’s as the Powell’s of the Midwest.
Book Lady's Attic
138 S. Oak Ave. Bartlett
Does the idea of an e-book make you feel blah? Is there something - even if you can’t put your finger on it (or maybe a bookmark) - about the feel, look and smell of a hard or soft cover book held in your hand rather than an electronic gadget spewing downloaded words? Come experience the nostalgia at Book Lady’s Attic where you can find an assortment of books for all ages in a 125-year-old house that’s just about as old as Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Finding beautiful, gently used books in its quaint, charming and inviting environs might actually be as enjoyable as reading itself.
Elgin Books and Coffee
66 S. Grove Ave. Elgin
Step 1. Find a comfortable and quiet place to read. Step2. Turn off and put away your phone. Step. 3. Get your drink on. Step 4. Find the right book. Step 5. Get your read on. It doesn’t get much simpler than that and you can follow those steps to bliss at Elgin Books and Coffee in historic downtown Elgin. With more than 50,000 books to choose from and espresso drinks, coffee, cold drinks and snacks in a cozy cafe area – with even free Wi-Fi if you need it - this is a wonderful little hideaway from the everyday stresses where you can relax, find and read books, enjoy solitude or relax with friends. Their book selection is immense and includes many hard-to-find and out-of-print titles.
Read between the Lynes
111 E. Van Buren St. Woodstock
Coffee seems to be the perfect complement to a good book. But what about those folks that love the smell of fresh coffee but despise drinking it? Perhaps they’d prefer ice cream or candy while perusing thousands of book titles? Whether you’re craving something sweet and sugary or hot and caffeinated you can find it here. From its humble beginnings in 2005,Read between the Lynes has blossomed into one of the most successful independent bookstores in the state while capturing the quaint, inviting hometown atmosphere that makes Woodstock so unique (kind of like a book you cannot put down). Offering four monthly book groups, it’s easy to make new friends who share a similar love for books.