GraduateMarathon Reading

Graduate – EGU – Marathon Reading

Marathon Reading

Rolfe Courtyard

May 19, 2017

9:30 a.m.


The English Department will be hosting the UCLA marathon reading for the first time since 2005. The organizers of the 2017 incarnation of the event chose to open up the choice of novel to a public vote, in order to rebuild interest in this once annual event. We have since received an outpouring of support for the event as a whole, and the choice of novels in particular. This year, we are happy to reintroduce the marathon reading with Toni Morrison’s canonical, fascinating and multivalent novel, Beloved. Novels chosen for the marathon reading must be just the right length to sustain a marathon, they must have gripping plots, in order to hold the audience’s attention, and finally, they must be texts still compelling and relevant no matter when they were originally written. Toni Morrison’s Beloved runs for approximately twelve hours when read out loud, which makes it perfect for a reading that begins in the morning and stretches into the night. Beloved possesses a narrative architecture that is typical of a ghost story: a gripping form that ensures the text would be perfect for reading aloud. Finally, Morrison’s Beloved gives us a substantive map of the Black American slave subjectivity, which was missing from the American literary canon. Morrison has written that her goal in the novel was to construct the inner lives of slaves, who experienced an inner life, but did not write it. Beloved is thus not only deeply relevant to the current bout of racial upheaval we are experiencing as a nation, but a necessary text in the canon.


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First established by the English Department in the spring of 1996, the UCLA Marathon Reading was an annual literary event until 2005. In 2017, the department will reinstate the Marathon Reading for the first time in over a decade.

Previous readings have ranged in length from 20 to 34 hours and have featured a wide variety of celebrity personalities. The event is traditionally held in the Rolfe Hall Sculpture Garden early in May. Attendees are advised to bring along a copy of the selected text (or to purchase one at the event) and read along. Sleeping bags, blankets, and food may be useful as well.

Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. All proceeds to go toward student scholarships, funding future marathon readings, and various other English Department programs. For the short of cash, there are several other ways in which a person can support this event. You can sign up for a 10-15 minute reading slot, assist with construction of the set, or help to staff the event.

Highlights from previous marathon readings include:

1996 – The first ever UCLA Marathon Reading pays tribute to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Close to a thousand attend, and nearly three hundred readers participate in this 24 hour reading. The marathon’s gripping conclusion is delivered by Charlton Heston.

1997 – A thirty hour long reading of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House features fog machines, a miniature 19th century Victorian set, and celebrities Sean Astin, John Astin, and Kate Mulgrew. The sculpture garden’s lawn sprinklers accidentally turned on halfway through the event, dousing everybody and providing a much-needed wake up call.

1998 – Over 4,000 people attend a 20 hour reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Actor John Lithgow kicks off the reading, and Rosa Parks makes a special guest appearance.

1999 – Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, a classic of 18th century Gothic literature, entertains spectators and participants during a twenty hour reading.

2000 – The UCLA Marathon Reading provides a surreal, 28 hour journey through the post-WWII landscape of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The courtyard is overrun with multicolored rockets, giant octopi, and bananas. People show up in costume, and several spectators are so overcome by the novel’s anarchic ethos that they streak nude through the sculpture garden.

2001 – For the first time ever, the UCLA Marathon Reading features two novels: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. The reading takes a total of 24 hours and features several celebrity guests, including Elvis Presley! (Or an Elvis Presley Impersonator, at least….)

2002 – The replica of an Irish Pub serves as the backdrop for a 28 hour reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The late hours of the reading become dominated by bottles of Harp beer, clove cigarette smoke, and the drunken comments of audience members.

2003 – USA, the John Dos Passos trilogy of stories

2004 – The ninth annual marathon reading featured George Eliot’s Middlemarch and lasted 26 hours, followed by panels on feminism, medicine, transcendentalism, gender, and class, led by UCLA students and guest faculty from across the country.

2005 – The Arabian Nights


News coverage of past events:

LA Times, UCLA Reading Marathon to Raise Funds for Students (1998)

Daily Bruin, English Department, supporters gear up for Marathon Reading (2000)

Daily Bruin, Department’s Marathon Reading marches on to 9th year (2004)


Please contact with any inquiries related to this event.