“It has to be spectacular or not at all,” said Malcolm O’Hagan, about the American Writers Museum he is founding to “help people understand the power of the word, how much it influences our culture and identity as a nation.”
Born the day before St. Patrick’s Day in Co. Sligo, 71 years ago, O’Hagan, who holds a doctorate in engineering, admits that it wasn’t until he moved to America that he became an avid reader. “So many books have influenced my thinking,” he said, recalling the anger he felt about the way the migrant workers were treated after reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
As founder and president of the proposed museum, O’Hagan’s mission is to give American writers their due by taking stories from between the covers of books and plays, and putting them on display in a way that will engage and delight visitors. Other countries have such museums including Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Korea, and China. The Portuguese Language Museum, honoring writers in Brazil, is the most visited museum in South America.
O’Hagan has spent the past year testing the museum concept, to enthusiastic response. Cities considered for the museum’s location must have major convention and tourism business as well as a rich literary tradition. At this writing, “it looks like Chicago,” O’Hagan said, after having had conversations with former Mayor Daley as well as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s transition team. The museum will probably be housed in an existing building for the first five years, “until we can build our own space, hopefully on the lake,” O’Hagan said, referring to Lake Michigan.
Core exhibitions will provide a chronological overview of American Literature, while changing exhibits introduce individual writers, great fictional characters, or particular themes. Plans include a lecture hall, movie theatre, and a Scribblers Café.
O’Hagan is president of New Hampshire Inc. Real Estate Holdings, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where he lives with his wife, Virginia, whom he met when he came to Washington many years ago. Armed with a scholarship from The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, he earned his doctorate at George Washington University. Both O’Hagan sons are helping to get the museum organized. John, the older, a film director, is producing a film about the museum project. Patrick, a partner with the international strategic consulting firm Bain in Boston is on the executive planning team.
O’Hagan visits Ireland at least once a year to see his two brothers and four sisters and their families. “Most of my family lives in Dalkey, outside Dublin, where James Joyce’s Ulysses starts and ends,” O’Hagan said. “I love to visit the Dublin Writers Museum and also the Yeats exhibit.” He visits a sister in Limerick, and another in Sligo, where they all grew up. “Next to Sligo my favorite part of Ireland is Connemara,” he said.
“The Irish are known for their story telling and Irish Americans are proud of their heritage,” O’Hagan said. A significant percentage of America’s great writers were Irish Americans, such as Eugene O’Neill, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O’Connor, James T. Farrell and Frank McCourt. It seems only fitting that an Irish American would create the American Writers Museum.
To learn more go to www.americanwritersmuseum.org. Take the survey of what you would like to find there, and lend your support. There is also a link to Dr. O’Hagan’s 30-minute 2010 interview on CSPAN’s Book TV.