On Michigan Avenue near Adams yesterday afternoon, soaking up the ample sunlight, a stroller could bask unaware that this was a red-letter day for fans of modernist literature and friends of Ireland alike. Take an elevator up 22 floors to the Cliff Dwellers club, however, and there was no mistaking the festiveness and importance of June 16th. It was Bloomsday, of course—the day of both James Joyce’s first date with his future wife Nora Barnacle and the day his landmark novel Ulysses takes place, both in 1904. At Cliff Dwellers, as in cities the world over, dedicated Joyceans gathered “to read from and rejoice in this comic masterpiece,” in the words of emcee Steve Diedrich, whose popular Newberry Library course on the novel had several appreciative alumni in the audience.
Besides Diedrich, last night’s readers included Irish Consul General Charles Sheehan, the explosively funny actor and two-time Jeff Award winner Lawrence McCauley, and three University faculty and staff members. Before reading the novel’s first scene, Sheehan spoke about Joyce’s connections to the United States and Chicago. Though he never visited the U.S., Sheehan noted, Joyce deeply appreciated his supporters here, especially Judge John M. Woolsey, who lifted the ban on the book in 1933. Sheehan read from Woolsey’s decision, and when he finished with “Ulysses may, therefore, be admitted into the United States,” the room erupted in cheers.
The three readers with University ties are Chicago Bloomsday veterans. Claudia Traudt, AM'81, who teaches Ulysses in the Graham School’s Basic Program, set the crowd by turns guffawing and blushing with her ripe, ribald performance of the young seductress Gerty MacDowell. Cardiology professor Rory Childers, grandson of an Irish martyr and son of an Irish president, was the very voice of authenticity reading from the novel's “Ithaca” section. And development staff member Mary Nell Murphy brought the event to a poignant close with a strikingly musical, delicate Molly Bloom. Murphy emphasized the sweetness of the novel’s famous, breathless last pages, while not missing the humor: “…and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Photos: Development staff member Mary Nell Murphy and writer/actor Kevin Grandfield; Graham School Ulysses teacher Claudia Traudt.
June 17, 2005