JOYCE DOES JOYCE: Arts critic Joyce Kulhawik (right) with Bloomsday actors in period costume and Celtic Sojourn’s Brian O’Donovan (left).
Trust Boston’s socially conscious Catholic academics to connect the dots between James Joyce’s once-banned 1922 mega-novel Ulysses and (among other things) gay marriage. And they’re doing it right on time. June 16 is Bloomsday, the date assigned to Joycean hero Leopold Bloom’s ramble of personal discovery.
In Dublin, the book's setting, the Joyce celebration lasts a full week (or more) and involves retracing the peripatetic salesman's 1904 route, episode by episode, landmark to landmark, with lots of stop-offs for readings, plays, lectures, souvenirs, and Guinness. The Bloomsday tradition, though, is international. On June 16, there will no doubt be people in Ulan Bator shooting off Roman candles in honor of temptress Gerty MacDowell.
Here in Boston, we’ve been celebrating the occasion for years with everything from lecture series to pub crawls. In 2007, the New Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC), an organization dedicated to exploring Jewish life and the interconnectedness of all cultures, partnered with the Office of the Provost at Boston College to address the mixed marriage theme of Ulysses with a program that focused on the relationships between Boston's Jewish and Irish communities. (Leopold Bloom was half Jewish but embraced the pope so he could embrace, and marry, the life-affirming Irish-Catholic lass Marion "Molly" Tweed.) The event was so successful that they're doing it again, this year hosted by recently pastured WBZ-TV arts-and-entertainment critic Joyce Kulhawik.
Dan Neuman, NCAC's president and executive director, sees (James) Joyce's work as a powerful springboard for exploration of important local and universal topics. The theme for 2008 is "Love Across Boundaries," which means basically mixed romantic pairings, but apparently includes same-sex unions. (Don't ask; it makes a kind of sense until you think it through.) The night's lineup will feature readings from Joyce by costumed actors and well-known Boston personalities, including WGBH-FM's Celtic Sojourn host Brian O'Donovan, Robin Young of WBUR-FM's Here and Now, and WCVB-TV's Ted Reinstein (Chronicle). The program will also feature a discussion with three prominent Boston couples whose love extends across various boundaries — one Greek-Irish, one Hindu-Jewish, and a third whose partners are gay.
Marjorie Howes, co-editor of Semicolonial Joyce, will be on hand to speak about the many aspects of love in the novel, particularly the relationship between Leopold and Molly Bloom.
"The love between Molly and Bloom in Ulysses is an unlikely one," said BC Provost Cutberto Garza, "but it is passionate and caring even as it's troubled. This, as I see it, is what Boston College and the New Center for Arts and Culture and our guests will celebrate with this year's Bloomsday program: the searching and generous heart that beats within each of us."
And yes, yes, the grand finale of the celebration will be excerpted readings from Molly Bloom's 24,197-word soliloquy.
NCAC's Bloomsday Boston 2008 takes place on Monday, June 16, from 5:30 to 9:00 pm, at the Bapst Art Library on BC's campus. The event is free and open to the public. Go to ncacboston.org.