This week, my in-laws are in town from the suburbs of Philadelphia. While both of them are always very impressed with the Twin Cities in general, the glowing reviews they hear from my husband and me about the art and literary segments of the community have exceptionally wowed them. However, it being mid-June for this visit, my more-Irish-than-not in-laws looked at me with fretful curiosity and asked what this literary city is doing for Bloomsday on Saturday, June 16.
Sadly, I didn’t have an answer. While I don’t believe that the celebratory prowess of a given city on Bloomsday should be the crux of local literary merit, I was kind of surprised that I didn’t know of anything going on. So, Minnesota, what is going on this Bloomsday?
Bloomsday celebrates the journey of Leopold Bloom, a main character of James Joyce’s Ulysses, through the city of Dublin over the course of the single day on which the book takes place, June 16, 1904. Each year, Bloomsday is celebrated to the hilt in Ireland’s capital, with readings, tours, and period-appropriate costumes. Other cities around the globe celebrate the day—including Philadelphia, where the hand-written manuscript of the book is housed in the Rosenbach Museum & Library—but none so much as the city where the story takes place.
Doing a little bit of research about Bloomsday in Minnesota, I was able to find tidbits of information about an annual event held at the swanky University Club in St. Paul. This celebration is put on by the Bloomsday Society, which was founded in 1985 and is still active. Headed by local poet and tango dancer Molly Culligan, I was sadly unable to find much information about the society as a whole, though they seem pretty interesting. Perhaps it’s a secret society.
You know what, though? It’s all right. Celebrating Bloomsday in Dublin is likely magical because participants are exploring a city still similar to the one Joyce wrote about over a hundred years ago. Even the most dedicated Bloomsday participants in Minnesota couldn’t possibly have that experience stateside. (I had considered coming up with a “this’ll do” tour of Minneapolis as Joyce’s Dublin, but who has the time? Maybe next year.) What Minnesota needs is its own Ulysses.
Doing some (more) research, however, I found that there, sadly, aren’t very many works of literary fiction set in these here Twin Cities. Sure, F. Scott Fitzgerald has his St. Paul Stories, but those don’t encompass his great masterwork. Dylan Hicks’s Boarded Windows takes place around town, but was originally set in North Dakota. Ugh! Why wasn’t Purple Rain a book? People come here and talk about purifying themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. They head over to First Ave. They fill their rooms with crying clown statues and wear crushed velvet jackets (or not). Could Purple Rain be our only chance at wide-spread Ulysses type celebration about a fictional character?
For the rep of our lil’ literary community, I hope not. Sorry, Prince.