Play Time with Uncle James

Okay, kids! It's storytime!

A staple of every childhood is gathering around and listening to classic stories. Whether around a campfire, in a classroom, or at the dinner table, the sharing of beloved fables to prompt the imagination can provide joy. Beginning June 16, the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) hopes to capture that same feeling for adults with a marathon reading of the James Joyce masterpiece "Ulysses."

An Odyssey of our own

Part of TMA's "Play Time" program — a summer-long event which celebrates the wonders of having fun — the Joyce reading will take place over the course of a week and include more than fifty volunteers reading the entirety of "Ulysses," Joyce's classic retelling of Homer's "Odyssey."

"I think it's something that people find accessible, because it has one central character, but also a cast of thousands," Scott Boberg, Manager of Programs and Audience Engagement for TMA, said. Boberg, a lifelong reader and admirer of Joyce's work, explained that the idea for the event came from thinking about "play" as a communal event — something that is made special by sharing the experience with others.

"This led to this idea of a marathon reading of 'Ulysses,'  a long tradition since the book was written in the 20's. Over the years, a lot of groups get together to read it — often Irish associations, but oftentimes English departments, or poets get together to read it."

There are other connections to the work of Joyce hanging in the halls of TMA. The 1931 painting "Jerry," by Paul Cadmus, which depicts a man lying in bed reading a copy of "Ulysses," is currently on display in an exhibition called "Speaking Visual." The museum also hosts a work by David Barry — a graphic novel rendition of Joyce's short story "The Dead," often called the greatest short story of all time.

"So we have (those) two works that look at visual interpretations, or the reading, of Joyce," Boberg said. "So, for me, programs are not only about finding things for special exhibitions, but it's also about connecting and illuminating works of art in our collection."

The whole story

It usually takes about 32 hours for the whole of "Ulysses" to be read aloud. TMA's event will be held in five, four to eight hour, sessions over the course of six days. Beginning on June 16 also holds special significance — the story takes place on that date, and it is celebrated by Joyce fans the world over as "Bloomsday."

"We are asking people to register or sign up for the reading in half hour blocks, so basically people will sign up and then come in and read for a half hour," Boberg said.

Between capturing that joyous sharing of story and hands-on sense of play, Boberg said he hopes attendees can experience the wonder of coming together as a group to share in the creation of something beautiful.

"I think what they're going to come away with is a communal activity — there's a communal aspect to this. Fundamentally this is a book about participating in your community and in your city. And I think it's about thinking about a museum in a multi-sensory way."

For more information on the James Joyce reading and "Play Time," visit For those hoping to participate, please email or call 419-255-8000 x7453 for more information.