With Herman Melville setting off from New Bedford to write his classic American novel, it only makes sense that one of the country’s biggest “Moby-Dick” literary events would take place there.
But, for the first time in 25 years, that event is going digital. The 25-hour “Moby-Dick” reading marathon, hosted by The New Bedford Whaling Museum, will air from 11:30 a.m. Saturday to around noon Sunday at whalingmuseum.org.
Although people can’t gather in-person for the reading, the sense of community will continue, said Amanda McMullen, the museum’s president and CEO.
“There will definitely be people watching all 25 hours of the reading,” McMullen said.
In an attempt to replicate the magic of the in-person event, museum staffers will continue their tradition of hosting Q&A sessions with Melville scholars, starting Friday evening. Fans can also test their knowledge with online trivia. For locals from Dartmouth, New Bedford, Acushnet, or Fairhaven, Moby Dick Brewing Co. is offering free delivery on a few marathon specials — think chowder and beer. A portion of proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Whaling Museum.
While visitors won’t be able to eat their chowder together, the virtual nature of the event does provide an opening for an international audience. In a normal year, the marathon draws a crowd of about 3,000 people from all over the world, and, so far, more than 8,000 people have attended the museums’ online programming during the pandemic. McMullen has seen people log on from South Africa to Alaska — and the conversations have been better for it, she said. She hopes the same will happen for the marathon.
“The industry of whaling was a part of our global history,” McMullen said. “[Melville] had such an intense view of the human condition. It’s universal, especially when you apply his lens to the pandemic.”
The universality is what makes the story a classic — and what keeps guests coming back again and again. It’s much more than a book everyone was forced to read in 10th grade, McMullen insisted. This is her seventh year at the museum, and every time she listens to the marathon, she hears something new in the text. “There’s just something about hearing it read out loud. It’s magical.”
So, this year, when participants listen from their homes, protagonist Ishmael’s line may take on new meaning: “As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.”
Friday-Sunday. All online events are free. For a full schedule, visit www.whalingmuseum.org
Natachi Onwuamaegbu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.