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  • All Astir
  • Mary K. Bercaw Edwards

As I write this, we in the Melville world are looking forward to the Tenth International Melville Conference, “Melville in a Global Context,” to be held in Tokyo, Japan, June 25–29, 2015. A copy of the revised program can be downloaded from the Melville Society website <>. The five-day conference includes a day-trip to cities by the sea in Kanagawa Prefecture, which are reminiscent of the days of Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1853. Melville wrote presciently in Moby-Dick about the aftermath of that encounter: “If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due” (chapter 24, “The Advocate”). The conference invites participants “to consider Melville’s deep interest in globalism, the many contexts in which his work has been and continues to be read, and the range of uses to which his writings have been put.” It includes speakers from throughout the Pacific and around the world and promises to be enriching, enlightening, and fun.

I write not only with the joyful news of the upcoming conference but with sad news as well. We have recently lost three Melvilleans, two since the last issue of Leviathan appeared.

Kathleen “Kay” E. Kier passed away at the beginning of March 2015. She served on the faculty of the English Department of Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), for more than thirty years until her retirement in 2010. She supported the College’s Kay Kier Prize for an essay related to Herman Melville. Kay’s love for Melville’s works grew from vacations on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and her love of her father, who served in the U.S. Navy. Kay was a staunch advocate for public higher education and devoted to her alma mater, Queens College.

I first encountered Kay when I read her investigation of Melville’s use of the “Beard” entry in the Penny Cyclopaedia for White-Jacket (“‘A Thing Most Momentous’? or ‘Part of the General Joke’?,” Melville Society Extracts 61 [1985]: 11–13) and heard Harrison Hayford’s warm and funny stories about her. My fondest memories of her are from the first international Melville conference in Volos, Greece, in 1997. As my father would have said, she was a “kick”—she was great fun. I always admired her devotion to public higher education. [End Page 117]

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Kathleen “Kay” E. Kier. Photo courtesy of Peter Hamm.

Many Melvilleans will remember meeting Kay at the Volos conference in 1997 and again at the Melville-Douglass conference in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 2005. Bob Wallace writes of first meeting Kay in Greece and calls her “such an engaging person.” Wyn Kelley adds: “I too met Kay in Volos and always appreciated her warm, welcoming spirit and wicked sense of humor.” Steven Olsen-Smith, co-editor of Melville’s Marginalia Online and Melville Society Treasurer, writes: “Kier’s Melville Encyclopedia [1990] is the most heavily thumbed student resource here in the MMO office. We acquired a second copy after coffee got spilt all over the first one a few years ago.” John Bryant, too, writes about the Encyclopedia: “Kay had an infectious good nature, and her encyclopedic work, which was based in part on a survey of the multivolume Penny Cyclopaedia, is a fine example of scholarly sleuthing of an important Melville [End Page 118] resource. During the mid-1990s when she was struggling for tenure, she asked me for a letter of support, which I was more than happy to give, and it gave me the opportunity to look more closely at the kind of critical thinking and not just hard work that goes into creating a Melville Encyclopedia. Some hint of that can be read in her 2007 review of Gail Coffler’s Melville’s Allusions to Religion in Leviathan 8.3 (our special issue on Japan).” I will end this set of reminiscences with Gail Coffler: “She [Kay] was great fun to be with. I met her at the start, through Don Yannella, and had good times with her...


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