What does the novel Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (1882–1941) have to do with American Studies? The answer is simple: Bloomsday is an annual literary festival celebrated in many U.S. cities, around the globe, and particularly in Dublin, the setting of the novel. The event is named for one of the novel’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom. The novel takes place on June 16, 1904, the day that James Joyce met his later wife, Nora Barnacle. Celebration activities include dressing up in period costumes, readings, theater performances, film screenings, and art exhibits associated with the novel and Joyce’s writings and life. The liveliness of the festivals testifies to the fun of reading Ulysses, especially if it’s read aloud. The novel is often mistakenly described as inscrutable for the average reader, but it is perhaps more accurately described as surprisingly readable.
In honor of Bloomsday, I’ve imagined a tongue-in-cheek letter of condolence from Milly Bloom, now fifty-two, but at the time of the novel the fifteen-year-old daughter of Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly, to Mrs. Joyce (born Nora Barnacle). The letter is dated 1941, nineteen years following the novel’s publication and thirty-seven years following that famous day in Dublin in 1904.
The day started with a cold waft from a freezing night in the middle of March, as the warm light from the slowly rising sun filled the old but well-kept house of Mr. Parnell with brightness. It crawled from the kitchen sink over every cupboard to the empty wooden dining table and the flowered armchair in the lounge, paved its way to the frayed carpet in the small hallway and revealed the outlines of the main door, an inconspicuous iron gate, covered with branches and tendrils.
Although the house included a few more rooms, you could never see through the heavy drapes behind the windows, falling gravely from the curtain rods. Neither Mr. Parnell nor his little girl ever used the rooms, which were filled with antique furniture, old paintings, sculptures, and various collectables. Every little piece had its proper place, well ordered but in their sheer multitude simply unfathomable. The narrow basement, which was mostly used as a storage room for groceries, had another tiny window, but it was nothing more than a vent and way too small to let any light in or out.
We met Miriam Toews at a reading in Hamburg on March 26, 2019. Toews was on a book tour to promote the German translation of her seventh novel, Women Talking. The novel is based on very disturbing events that took place between 2005 and 2008 in Bolivia. The German version, Die Aussprache, was published by Hoffmann und Campe in 2018. For her novel, A Complicated Kindness (2004), Miriam Toews won Canada’s most prestigious literary prize, the Governor General’s Award. Since Toews will not be physically present at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2020 to represent Canada, this year’s guest of honor, this interview will hopefully help tie us over until her next visit to Germany.
Just last month, the U.S. Consulate General Leipzig organized a Haiku contest for both high school and university students. The motto for this creative writing challenge was “Looking outside – Looking inside,” that is, noticing the connections between the change in season and the change in one’s internal landscape. Students were asked to put their thoughts and feelings into a Haiku consisting of three lines and 17 syllables in total.
The consulate received about 100 submissions from eight German states and places as far away as Nigeria. American poet and now also haiku contest judge, Jennifer Kronovet, selected 10 of her favorite Haikus and commented on her top three.
The blog editors congratulate all winners. Keep up the good work!
“Do they have traffic lights in Ireland?” This was a naive question posed to my cousin on a visit to the United States in the 1980s. To my pre-teen intellect, this was the kind of insult that demonstrated the height of American ignorance my friends and I so often scoffed at. There was laughter at such a ludicrous concept.
The image of Ireland as backward bordered on comical and more often, irritating. After all, we were a nation with a deep history and a rich culture with literary giants like James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats. Musically, we boasted the renowned talent of everything from The Dubliners and Thin Lizzy to the global phenomenon of U2. In our minds, we might be a small island, but we were extremely proud and accomplished.
I met author Andrew Ridker at the Heine-Haus in Lüneburg on October 21, 2019. After the inspiring evening, he kindly agreed to an email interview with the American Studies Blog. His novel, The Altruists, describes a dysfunctional family burdened by their respective pasts and their attempts to repair shattered relationships. Ultimately, as the title suggests, it is also about being good.
SV: Your debut novel, The Altruists, is reaping the highest praise from critics in the U.S. and beyond. How are you coping with all of the attention?
AR: I’m extremely grateful for the kind reviews, which have exceeded my expectations, but in my experience those highs have an expiration date of roughly twenty-four hours. After that, it’s back to work.
SV: In October, you went on a book tour in Germany (Berlin, Göttingen, and Lüneburg), Austria (Salzburg), and Switzerland (Zürich). Was it your first visit to these German-speaking countries? Did anything surprise you?