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  • All Astir
  • Mary K. Bercaw Edwards

The bicentennial of Melville’s birth continues to be a rich, wonderful, and packed year. The Twelfth International Melville Conference, “Melville’s Origins,” will occur June 17–20, 2019, in New York City just as this issue of Leviathan appears. Thank you to Jennifer Baker (New York University) and Tony McGowan (United States Military Academy at West Point), the Co-Chairs of the conference organizing committee, and to the other members of the committee, Dawn Coleman (University of Tennessee) and Martha Elena Rojas (University of Rhode Island), for all their hard work conceiving, organizing, and running the conference.

The New York conference includes the inauguration of the Melville Society Travel Grant Fund. Meredith Farmer, who initiated the fund, writes with heartfelt appreciation for all those who were able to donate: “Thanks to you we were able to give eight $300 grants paired with waived conference registration fees—far more than the three we had initially projected. We are thrilled to be able to support so many people’s work, and we would like to congratulate our award winners: José Alfaro, Pilar Martínez Benedí, Jaime Campomar, Adam Fales, Alex Moskowitz, Caitlin Smith Oyekole, Kylan Rice, and Nicholas Spengler.”

The 2019 MLA conference, which was held in Chicago in January, included two Melville Society panels, “Melville’s Quarrel with Modernity,” chaired by Kim Evans, and “Reading The Confidence-Man Today,” chaired by Rodrigo Lazo, as well as a joint session, “American Lives: Whitman and Melville,” organized by John Matteson and Edlie Wong. Abstracts from “Melville’s Quarrel with Modernity” and “Reading The Confidence-Man Today” appear in this issue of Extracts. There was also a Melville Society dinner at the Palm Chicago.

The year 2019 also saw the inaugural Melville symposium at the University of Kansas: “Melville and Race: A Mini-Symposium on the Bicentennial of Melville’s Birth.” The symposium was endowed by prominent Melville scholar Elizabeth Schultz, most recently author of “The New Art of Moby-Dick,” which appeared in the March issue of Leviathan (21.1). Schultz, Professor Emerita at the University of Kansas where she taught from 1967 to 2001, also endowed the Herman Melville Distinguished Professorship in the Department of English at Kansas. Randall Fuller, the first to hold that title, organized the [End Page 147] symposium: speakers included Wyn Kelley (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) on “Retouching Whiteness: Racial Ambivalence in Melville’s Late Work”; Ivy G. Wilson (Northwestern University) on “Lost at Sea: The Racial Terror of Domestic Work in Moby-Dick”; and Robert S. Levine (University of Maryland) on “Race, Emigration, and Nation in Redburn.” Kelley spoke about the aesthetics of whiteness in Melville’s “The Berg,” “Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac,” and Billy Budd. She argued that Melville leaves the sublime behind in his later work in favor of disgust and dismay at “bleached” whiteness. Wilson spoke about Fleece and gave a Marxist reading of capitalism and slavery in Moby-Dick, drawing on the work of C. L. R. James. Levine looked beyond the black-white binary in Redburn to examine hierarchies within whiteness, such as Anglo-Saxon vs. Celt.

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MLA panel: “American Lives: Whitman and Melville.” Left to right: John Bryant, John Matteson, Kevin Beliele, Meredith Farmer, and Micah Bateman. Photo courtesy of Brian Yothers. The year 2019 marks the bicentennial for both Melville and Whitman.

The Berkshire County Historical Society is working with the Berkshire Athenaeum to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth. The Athenaeum is seeking a “Literary Landmark” designation, which is awarded to libraries associated with writers of note. If awarded, the celebration of the designation will occur on Melville’s birthday, August 1, to be followed by a Moby-Dick marathon reading held at Melville’s former home Arrowhead, also in Pittsfield, Mass. The reading will pause for the annual Monument Mountain [End Page 148] Hike, before finishing. Arrowhead’s Summer 2019 exhibit is “Melville at Home in the Berkshires.”

Other institutions are also eager to celebrate Melville’s bicentennial. The Jepson Center in Savannah, Georgia, will mount a major exhibit that will run from October 11, 2019, through February 16, 2020...


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