On Saturday, The New Bedford Whaling Museum kicks off its annual "Moby-Dick" Marathon. The event, held in-person for the first time since COVID, celebrates Herman Melville's tale about a Massachusetts whaling ship searching the seas for a white whale. The "Moby-Dick" Marathon will feature a 25-hour reading of the novel, beginning with actress Taylor Schilling, along with hours of other programs such as museum tours and chats with scholars. GBH's Arun Rath will be reading on Saturday during the day. Rath spoke with New Bedford Whaling Museum's CEO, Amanda McMullen. This transcript has been edited lightly.

Arun Rath: So it's really impossible to think about whaling and New Bedford without thinking about Melville and Moby Dick. Has the spirit of Melvin been around since the beginning of the museum? Tell us about what the relationship has been.

Amanda McMullen: I mean, the spirit of Melville is, I would say all things New Bedford. You can't help but walk along the cobblestone streets in downtown New Bedford, where the museum is located, and not really feel this sense, especially on a foggy morning and seeing still a working waterfront. And you kind of get this sense really of Herman Melville walking down to the port to jump on the Acushnet and set sail. So, yes, it's definitely connected to the museum. It's connected to all things New Bedford.

Rath: And what about the history of this event? How did that get going?

McMullen: This is our 27th annual reading and it was inspired by other read-a-thons that happen all over the globe. And so one of our volunteers had heard about these and said, you know, who really should be doing the "Moby-Dick" Marathon but us, and let's do this and get on the map. And so then they started it, like I said, 27 years ago, and it has become quite the cult following, I think, just to what we were talking about, the fact that you can really feel this sense of Melville. And you hear the mayor of New Bedford, John Mitchell, will read the passage on the city and he elaborates about walking the streets of the city. And then he leads everyone across the street to the Seaman's Bethel, that is essentially where Melville and others, before boarding whaling ships, went to pray and hope that they came home safe and sound. So it is the most authentic.

We like to say it is the marathon to attend and it is really this progressive party that starts on a Friday night with a kickoff dinner, goes through the actual reading itself that launches on Saturday at noon with, as you noted, actress Taylor Schilling, which is going to be very exciting. She gets to belt out those three famous words, "Call me Ishmael," and then we are off. But throughout the whole week in a room, we have so many different elements. We have a Portuguese marathon, we have a children's — we call it the Little Whale or storytime and scavenger hunt. We have activities like Stump the Scholars, which are our partners, the six really preeminent professors around the country who are our partners in the Melville society. We hold their archive on Melville. It is truly like a 48-hour party in New Bedford, so it's not to be missed.

Rath: Interesting hearing about the Portuguese marathon and other things that, you know, reminds us of the richness, that this is a really multicultural novel. I mean, the cast of characters is super diverse. It sounds like you treat that.

McMullen: We do. New Bedford, I have said to a lot of people, is one of the first global American cities because of whaling. So the notion that people went out, they set sail for three and four years. They traveled the world. They came back with items from all over the world, from different trading posts and things. And then many cases, the immigration that happened as a result of whaling, and particularly in New Bedford, you have a large Portuguese presence and folks from Cabo Verde and other parts of the world who made their way to New Bedford. And the Portuguese community is so strong, obviously in the south coast of Massachusetts, they are incredibly important part of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. We have multiple galleries dedicated to the Portuguese and Cabo Verde story at the museum.

We also have advisory committees for both of those who are actively involved, and our Portuguese advisory committee gets really involved in the marathon itself. They have kicked up this Portuguese reading that is an abridged version, but we have about 50 readers and we will be simulcasting that to four different locations, two islands in the Azores, Lisbon and Cabo Verde. So it's going to be a neat addition to the weekend as well.

"There is a magic about hearing it read out loud, that those descriptions come to life in a different way."
-Amanda McMullen, New Bedford Whaling Museum

Rath: "Moby-Dick," for a marathon reading, certainly feels more accessible than some works out there, especially how vividly he paints the local area — but still it's an epic massive work. What's the learning curve been like on staging this over the decades?

McMullen: I've been there five years. I mean, the learning curve for me personally is this, from my sophomore year in high school, reading it probably assisted by Cliff Notes or some helpful tool and a great teacher who would sort of help. But I couldn't really ever understand it, you know, at 15 and 16 in a way that now, at 52, I have this greater understanding of human condition and challenge and all of the elements that Melville writes about — our scholars, the partners that we work with, will always say, you can attribute anything any day to Herman Melville, anything you're experiencing, anything you're feeling. And certainly in these last three years being in this raging pandemic, I mean, this sense of isolation, lack of community, who can you trust, fear mongering.

Just all of those elements of human condition come through in Melville very vividly for me, and I think for many others, we're really excited to be back in person. We had done this virtually for the last two years, and while that was a fantastic fit, we made it work and we really actually saw some great theatrical readings that people did from afar and recorded themselves. There's something special about reading it together in sort of a communal atmosphere together as a community. And I do think that for myself and for others, we all talk about the notion of hearing, to your point, this epic tale that can be pretty overwhelming and confusing. There is a magic about hearing it read out loud, that those descriptions come to life in a different way. Every year I will hear something different and it just will hit a different note depending on what's going on in life and reality. And I do think it's something pretty unique and special to hear it read.

Rath: Well, I have to say, from seeing other events recently, I'm sure your crowd is going to be super fired up. People are so ready for that to be back and enjoying this kind of thing. Good luck. I'm sure it's just going to go off fantastically. Thank you.

McMullen: Thank you.