Reply To: BLOOMSDAY Thoughts

Ron Whitehead

Happy Bloomsday!!
One of my favorite writers is Ireland’s James Joyce.
I immersed myself in Joyce Studies and ended up
working with some of the world’s best scholars.
Today, June 16th, is Bloomsday.
“Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration
of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, observed
annually in Dublin and elsewhere on 16 June,
the day his 1922 novel Ulysses takes place in 1904,
the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be,
Nora Barnacle, and named after its protagonist
Leopold Bloom. The three central characters—
Stephen Dedalus (the hero of Joyce’s earlier
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man); Leopold Bloom,
a Jewish advertising canvasser; and his wife, Molly.”
In 1990, in a Graduate Seminar on James Joyce, led by
Dr. Suzette Henke, held in The Richard M. Kain Room
of The Rare Books and Archives at the University of
Louisville’s Ekstrom Library, I presented my paper
“Stephanoumenos in Quest of the Numinous: Mysterium Tremendum and Gnostical Turpitude: The Big Bang Epiphany
in Joyce’s A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN and ULYSSES: Alchemically Transmutative Symbol Decipherment,
The Book as Sacred Elixir.”
I wrote this diagram on the chalkboard. A couple of years ago, Delinda Buie, Director of U of L’s Rare Books and Archives, sent
me this photo of my diagram letting me know that she never erased it, she intentionally left it enshrined in that holy room.
Dr. Richard M. Kain was the first internationally acclaimed scholar
of Irish Literature. He authored many books, including FABULOUS VOYAGER (1947) which stands as a landmark on Joyce scholarship.
I had the honor of taking Dr. Kain’s final class. He took me under wing and wrote a letter introducing me to Richard Ellmann who
I visited with while studying at the University of Oxford’s International Graduate School in 1985.
Ellmann changed the face of literary biography with his books on James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, and Oscar Wilde.
I also studied Joyce with Dr. Valentine Cunningham, Head of English Literature at Oxford. When Valentine said Joyce was one of England’s greatest writers I laughed in his face then reminded him that Joyce was from Dublin, Ireland.
Dr. Suzette Henke became my academic advisor and mentor for graduate school. Dr. Henke is the author of JAMES JOYCE AND THE POLITICS OF DESIRE, JOYCE’S MORACLOUS SINDBOOK: A STUDY OF ULYSSES, and SHATTERED SUBJECTS: TRAUMA AND TESTIMONY IN WOMEN’S LIFE WRITING.
In 1992 my Joyce paper was accepted for presentation at The 13th Annual International James Joyce Symposium in Dublin, Ireland.
I presented my paper on Bloomsday in The Jonathan Swift Theater of Trinity College, The University of Dublin. It was named one of the best papers of the conference.
Dr. Henke and Eithne Strong (RIP), the matriarch of Irish women writers, were in attendance for my presentation.
I ended up becoming friends with Eithne Strong. I invited her to the University of Louisville for a reading which took place in U of L’s Rare Book & Archives’ Auditorium. She and I also read together, with Theo Dorgan, founder of Poetry Ireland, at The Winding Stair in Dublin, Ireland.
I taught James Joyce’s works in many classes over 20 years of teaching college/university.
Ron Whitehead, U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate
Photo by Delinda Buie.