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Colleen Sheehy, Published June 13 2013

NxNW: Celebrate Bloomsday and keep literature alive

Sunday is Bloomsday, the day on which Irish writer James Joyce’s incredible novel “Ulysses” takes place.

Published in 1922, “Ulysses” chronicles a day in the life of a Dublin man, Leopold Bloom, as he wanders the city.

A tour de force of imaginative literature, the novel doesn’t follow a realistic narrative. Each chapter is written in a different literary style, culminating with Leopold’s wife Molly Bloom’s rhapsodizing, stream-of-consciousness soliloquy.

As an undergraduate English major (I’m forever grateful to Garrison Keillor for raising the status of our group), I read “Ulysses” for a class. I may not have otherwise read it, as it is a challenging and long novel, but I feel enriched for having done so.

What an eye-opener about the experimentation in early 20th-century fiction! It’s a work that is still considering daring today. The book was named

No. 1 on the Modern Library’s ranking of the 100 most important novels of the 20th century.

I’ve long admired the worldwide celebrations of Bloomsday. On June 16 in Dublin and New York City, people gather for marathon readings of “Ulysses,” with actors, writers and readers reciting passages all day (and into the night). I hope to attend one of these celebrations someday.

Inspired by Bloomsday readings, groups have also begun to stage marathon readings of a great American novel: Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick.”

The 1851 novel shares similarities with “Ulysses” as a landmark of literature with complex structure and varied narrative styles. At the same time, it is an adventure story with action that carries the story forward.

In the same vein of these marathon readings, our community will have an opportunity to take part in a public reading of “Moby-Dick” from noon to 10 p.m. on Sept. 22 at Plains Art Museum.

Working with libraries in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, we are encouraging people to take on “Moby-Dick” as their summer reading (visit http://321fm.org for more information).

The event is organized in conjunction with our fall exhibition featuring the latest work of native son T.L. Solien, who was inspired by “Moby-Dick” in this new series.

We are launching the exhibition with a marathon reading by local actors, writers, performers and anyone else who wants to read for 10 minutes that day. If you’re interested in being a reader, please contact me at csheehy@plainsart.org.

We are excited to participate in these public readings that keep literature alive. They remind me of one of my favorite movies and books, “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury. This science fiction story describes a dystopian future in which books are banned and firemen burn books rather than put out fires. The title refers to the temperature at which paper burns.

I find the book’s ending inspiring; people gather in small colonies in the woods, where they “become” books, each one memorizing an important work of literature to carry on for the future.

Keep literature alive! Please join us in reading and listening to “Moby-Dick.” And Happy Bloomsday!


NxNW is an occasional arts and culture column written by Colleen Sheehy, director and CEO of the Plains Art Museum in Fargo.