A Poet’s Guide to Visiting Chicago

Visitors can participate in collective storytelling on real typewriters at the American Writers Museum
Visitors can participate in collective storytelling on real typewriters at the American Writers Museum | © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC BY-SA 3.0 / WikiCommons
Sarah Ashley

For decades, poetry played an invaluable role in Chicago’s literature and arts scenes. The city produced and published some of the genre’s most famous authors before they became household names. Poets in the Windy City continue to redefine the art of written and spoken-word poetry. The scene still thrives and evolves today. Whether an expert in verse or a poetry novice, these are the hot spots every poet must visit while in Chicago.

Poetry Foundation

Building, Library

Poetry Foundation
© Alanscottwalker / WikiCommons
After Harriet Monroe created Poetry magazine in 1912 as a way to celebrate poets and their craft, the Modern Poetry Association emerged in 1941 to support publication and circulation. Then, thanks to a generous donation from philanthropist Ruth Lilly in 2003, the MPA became the Poetry Foundation. Located in River North in a gorgeous building with large windows and a garden “room,” visitors can read from the Foundation’s library, attend poetry events, view exhibitions and more.

Carl Sandburg House


© Amerique / WikiCommons
One of Carl Sandburg’s most notable poems is aptly titled “Chicago.” It first appeared in the March 1914 issue of Poetry magazine and quickly became an iconic representation of working-class life in the city, earning Chicago the nickname of “City of Big Shoulders.” The apartment in which Sandburg wrote these words still stands in a home in Ravenswood, on the north side. In 2006, the site earned landmark status. Sandburg only spent three years living in this home, and since that time, it’s been privately owned. While not open to the public, it’s still a terrific, historic photo op for poets.

Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace and Museum

Museum, Park

Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace and Museum
© Teemu008 / Flickr
Farther west, in Oak Park, visitors can tour the childhood home and birthplace of author Ernest Hemingway. A 1992 renovation restored the Queen Anne Victorian, built in 1890, to provide a more authentic Victorian-era experience to visitors. Hemingway’s Birthplace also hosts book lectures, film screenings, and a cocktail social event on the third Friday of every month. Though Hemingway only lived in the house until he was six years old, the building is a gorgeous slice of literary history, right in Chicago’s backyard.

Hall Branch, Chicago Public Library

Building, Library

Hall Library
© Steven Kevil / WikiCommons

It’s impossible to consider poetry in Chicago without acknowledging the Chicago Defender. A newspaper founded by Robert Abbott and written for the African-American community in Chicago, the Defender encouraged black Americans in the South to migrate north during the 1910s. Many children of the people who subsequently settled in the Bronzeville neighborhood became instrumental in Chicago’s Black Renaissance during the ’30s and ’40s. Poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Fenton Johnson met with other artists around Bronzeville in places like the Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, which opened in 1932 and was named after Dr. George Cleveland Hall, an African-American surgeon, civic leader, and social activist. In 2007, the library became a literary landmark for its continued support of African-American writers, poets, and activists.

Poems While You Wait

Pop-up Store

Chicago Bean
© Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Historical sites are definitely worth the trip, but nothing beats a heat-of-the-moment artistic interaction. Poets Kathleen Rooney, Eric Plattner, and Dave Landsberger co-founded Poems While You Wait in 2011. The three still write poetry for the group and have since added more writers to their crew. Here’s how it works: patrons offer up a specific topic to a poet, along with a suggested $5 donation. After leaving the poet to his or her typewriter for 15 to 20 minutes, patrons come back to receive their one-of-a-kind, brand-spankin’ new poem. Be sure to check the team’s schedule to know where to find them next.

American Writers Museum

Library, Museum

A close up of a vintage Royal typewriter showing signs of age on a wooden desk
© 2checkingout / Alamy Stock Photo

Recently voted the Best Illinois Attraction by The USA Today/10 Best Reader’s Choice Awards, the American Writers Museum is full of literary history. The museum opened its doors in 2017 after nearly a decade of planning. Its mission is to engage audiences in the world of literature and the spoken word, exposing visitors to a wide variety of artists from around America. The Surprise Bookshelf Series is a poetry enthusiast’s best bet; these events celebrate the many forms writing takes, including journalism, poetry, and graphic art. Visitors can also participate in a collective storytelling exhibit in which anyone can add a new line of text to one giant piece of writing.

Word Play

Building, Theater

Louder Than a Bomb
© Mercedes Zapata / Courtesy of Young Chicago Authors

If you’re lucky enough to be in Chicago during the world’s largest youth poetry festival, you’ve hit the jackpot. Louder Than a Bomb features 120 teams of slam poets from high schools, middle schools and communities around the country over the course of several weeks. Part of the Young Chicago Authors organization, LTAB is continuously one of the most hyped and electric arts events that the city has to offer. According to poet and YCA’s marketing manager José Olivarez, it’s also a place where one can end up with young people from all over Chicago in the same room, bonding over a single art form. If you miss LTAB, have no fear. YCA hosts a weekly open mic and poetry performance perfect for poetry enthusiasts. Every Tuesday night, a workshop takes place at 6 pm, followed by an open mic at 7 pm when students and young adults perform their work. At 8:15 pm, featured artists take the stage. Some big names (Chance the Rapper, anyone?) have come through this open mic, and each week features brand-new material from a diverse range of poets. Do not miss this.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.