The Annual Moby-Dick Marathon
A celebration of all things Moby-Dick and Melville
2020 Dates: Friday, January 3 – Sunday, January 5
One of the world’s best known live readings of Herman Melville’s iconic American novel Moby-Dick takes place every January at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The Moby-Dick Marathon draws readers and enthusiasts from around the globe to the Museum’s campus and to the livestream reading online. Obsessive literary aficionados, local school children, and everyone in between travel back in time to accompany narrator, Ishmael, on the epic whaling journey and hunt for the elusive white whale.
The Whaling Museum has marked the anniversary of Melville’s 1841 departure from the Port of New Bedford and Fairhaven aboard the whaleship, Acushnet, with this mid-winter tradition since 1997. Melville would later pen Moby-Dick, publishing the famous novel in 1851. Moby-Dick Marathon weekend features the main 25-hour read-a-thon – fueled by caffeine, warm local soups, theatrical performances, and a fondness for the author’s artistry – as well as two mini-marathons: a Portuguese-language reading of Tiago Patricio’s abridged Moby-Dick; and a children’s version by Classic Starts.
The event begins with readers and audience members nestled onboard or alongside the world’s largest whaleship model – the Lagoda. Marathoners sit amongst the sails, lines, and whaling tools of the time while experiencing the first chapters. The reading moves through multiple settings in the Museum. Chapters 7, 8, and 9, The Chapel, The Pulpit, and The Sermon, are read at the Seamen’s Bethel, made famous by Melville in Moby-Dick as the “Whaleman’s Chapel.” Melville attended a service at the Bethel shortly before he shipped out.
The remainder of the book is read non-stop in a gallery with 180-degree views of the fishing fleet and other vessels lining New Bedford Harbor. The only exception is Chapter 40, Midnight Forecastle, which is performed as a theatrical interpretation by Culture*Park in the Museum’s theater.
The entire marathon is peppered with fun Melville-inspired activities, including opportunities to chat with scholars from the Melville Society Cultural Project (MSCP) and even a chance to “stump” the scholars by testing their Melville knowledge. The Whaling Museum, in collaboration with The Melville Society, is the established home of the MSCP and the Melville Society Archive, which is housed in the Museum’s Research Library. The archive constitutes one of the best collections of Melville scholarship and resources anywhere in the world.
The few hardy souls who brave the voyage by staying awake through all 136 chapters of the great American epic receive a prize when the marathon comes to an end on Sunday.
The Moby-Dick Marathon is livestreamed online and shown non-stop in the Museum’s theater during the reading. Admission to the Museum is free of charge on Saturday and Sunday until the end of the marathon.