Taking on the works of James Joyce is akin to an endurance sport.
The reader warms up with some poems, slowly works up to ”A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” and, when limber, tackles ”Ulysses” or ”Finnegans Wake,” two literary marathons.
Martin Hanley, an actor and runner, realized this more than 20 years ago while struggling with ”Finnegans Wake.” Like those in a road race, readers who make it to the finish really, really want to. So, he wondered, why not create a 10-kilometer race through this leafy suburb south of Boston in honor of Joyce?
”I figured, why not take the two worlds that are important to me and merge them into something that works as performance art?” Mr. Hanley said. ”I call it the convergence of active minds and hearts.”
And with that, the first James Joyce Ramble rolled on March 26, 1984, with more than 200 running in honor of Joyce. It made sense. Joyce was known to enjoy running; Stephen Dedalus in the semi-autobiographical ”Portrait of the Artist” did as well. The race gained renown in, and participants from, athletic, literary and Irish circles.
The popular after-party with thousands of gallons of free beer helped. But it was a joke that turned the race into something special about 15 years ago.
Mr. Hanley recalled that a participant thought it would be funny to read ”Ulysses” aloud as he ran and at points to stop and read to those racing by. ”I scratched my head and said, ‘This might work,’ ” Mr. Hanley said.
The following year he had actors in period garb read Joyce at various places along the 6.2-mile course through the center of town. The readings became the signature of the race, which now attracts more than 3,000 runners.
Three dozen or so actors are assigned spots on the course and read from one of six works. For this year’s race, which was run today under a bright periwinkle sky, they read from ”Finnegans Wake” during Mile 1.
In the second mile the runners were serenaded with ”Ulysses,” and Mile 3 brought Dedalus and ”Portrait.” The literary pace slowed a bit during Miles 4 and 5, with the actors reciting ”Exiles” and ”Dubliners.” Appropriately, ”The Dead” was the reading of choice for the sixth, and last, mile.
Donald Watson, 48, an actor from Melrose, Mass., stood on a stool in front of a stoplight in Dedham Square and read from ”Ulysses” as the runners breezed past him, his black wool cape fluttering in the wind.