It almost slipped past me, but I just managed to grab it by the tale — pun intended! Today, June 16, is officially Bloomsday — and probably the most famous single day in literature. Why? June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce chronicled in his legendary Ulysses. So it is suitably celebrated every year in Dublin, where the story took place, and around the world, by Joyce enthusiasts with marathon readings, pub crawls, and festive events.
It all began not long after Ulysses was published in 1922: Joyce himself coined the word when he referred to it in a letter in June of 1924. Bloomsday took root and became literarily official when The Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for it in 2005 — roughly 100 years after the date was cited in Joyce’s landmark tome.
The practice of gathering on Bloomsday to celebrate started in 1929 when Sylvia Beach and a friend invited Joyce and 30 other guests to a luncheon at the Leopold restaurant near Versailles to celebrate both the publication of Ulysses in French and Bloomsday’s 25th anniversary. The lunch actually took place on June 27th, but no one seemed to care. Then, in 1954, a band of Irish authors celebrated Bloomsday by dressing up in costumes, traveling from one end of Dublin to the other in a horse-drawn carriage, and (probably) stopping off at a pub or two on the way. On June 16, 1967, the first gathering of Joyce scholars was held in Dublin.
Across the pond, for 30 years, Symphony Space in Manhattan hosted an annual “Bloomsday on Broadway” where Leopold-loving actors and writers come together to perform scenes from the novel. Now, readings both long and short of Ulysses and other festivities are held in cities across America, from New York and Washington, D.C. to Philly and San Francisco.
I love the idea of people celebrating a red-letter day in an author’s life — especially by reading, carousing, and singing — it all sounds very fitting and fun, doesn’t it?
This raises a wealth of possibilities. If James Joyce can have his day, why not Willa Cather, Charles Dickens, or Emily Dickinson? Now, since none of them immortalized a particular day in their work as our boy James did, for simplicity’s sake, we can pick their birthdays as times of celebration. Charles was born on February 7, 1812 (a Pisces, like me!), Willa on December 7, 1873, and Emily on December 10, 1830.
Now I’m sure you have your very own merry little band of beloved authors. Why not check out their birthdays and plan a little fun with friends to celebrate the joy they’ve brought you over the years. A cozy dinner, a glass or two hoisted to the memory of your special scribe, a snazzy new journal purchased in their honor — what could be more fitting?
We burn lots of little gray cells plying our trade, so why enjoy ourselves as we write on?