On Campus, Arts

“It’s a book that you need to live”: BC Students to Hold 24-Hour Live Reading of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’

Nina Khaghany walked into her English class at the beginning of the fall semester with an ambitious idea: She would stage a 24-hour live reading of Jame Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses. 

Khaghany, MCAS ’24, is part of Irish studies professor Joseph Nugent’s class called Joyce’s Ulysses, which spends the entire semester reading and unraveling the notoriously complex book.

When she pitched the idea to her peers, she wasn’t expecting an enthusiastic response. Her classmates—representing multiple majors and united by a common desire to tackle the monstrous modernist, 20th-century novel—surprised her. 

“Everyone in my class looked at me and was like ‘We have to do this,’” Khaghany said. 

Khaghany and her classmates have worked on the project since the beginning of the semester, and “BC Bloomsday” will come to life at 8:11 a.m. on Thursday when the live reading begins in the Connolly House. 

Marathon readings of the novel are done annually in Dublin on June 16, the date the book takes place. It’s known as Bloomsday, named after the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Khaghany and her classmates are bringing the tradition to Boston College. 

The reading will conclude around 12:15 p.m. on Friday in the English department in Stokes Hall. Khaghany said she hopes that students and faculty will come to listen to the final reading and cross the literary finish line with the class. 

The reading will travel across 12 different locations on BC’s campus, including stops at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, O’Neill Library, and the Heights newsroom. The class has dubbed the event the “K.M.R.I.A. Traveling Tour,” which stands for “kiss my royal Irish arse,” referring to a humorous moment in the novel. 

Each spot and scheduled start time correlates with the events unfolding in the approximately 265,000 word novel that spans a single day. Nugent said that the book usually takes about 28 hours to read straight through. 

Khaghany said that both students and guest readers have signed up to read chapters from the book. Tom Sapsford, assistant professor in the classical studies department, will read the chapter “Aeolus,” which includes extensive passages in Latin. 

The class will be looking to get other BC students and faculty passing by involved in the day’s reading. Nugent said that people who join the crowd of listeners will have their photo taken in a hat and fake mustache, reminiscent of Joyce’s signature style. 

“We want students to see the readings going on and see us wearing these silly hats and actually put the hats on themselves so that everybody begins to know something about James Joyce and this most difficult novel,” Nugent said. 

Nugent has taught courses dedicated to the book for 14 years and often focuses on multimedia and cross-disciplinary methods of analyzing the book, including podcasts and virtual reality projects. 

The live reading is one of the multiple projects that students in the class are creating as part of the coursework. Others include a collection of sonnets, a movie, and a TikTok account. 

As part of the project, Julia Govostes, MCAS ’25, constructed a website dedicated to the day’s events and the various projects that students are working on for the class. A full schedule and map of the various locations are listed on the site.

Madison Cabrera-Link, MCAS ’23, started and runs an Instagram account dedicated to the project. 

“I really hope people feel open asking questions and maybe listening to some chapters and getting a little more engaged with it,” Cabrera-Link said. “I know we’re going to be having a lot of fun.”

BC’s Institute for the Liberal Arts funded the project, helping the class create sweatshirts, posters, and hats to commemorate the day, along with supplying necessary snacks and coffee to sustain the participants during the reading marathon. 

Nugent and his students will hole up in Connolly House from 10:35 p.m. to 7:48 a.m., which includes tackling the book’s longest chapter, “Circe,” at 2:40 a.m. 

Despite the intimidating nature of the text and the hours-long feat, Khaghany said that this type of immersive reading experience is fitting for Joyce’s novel.

Ulysses is not a book that needs to be read. It’s a book that you need to live,” Khaghany said, quoting Joyce’s letters. “You’ll find yourself walking around after reading a chapter, and you’ll just be thinking in terms of the book.”

Update 11/9/2022 12:18 P.M.: Khaghany’s final quote was corrected to clarify that she was quoting Joyce.

November 8, 2022