Pittsfield Celebrates Herman Melville, the Great Whale Moby DIck, and its Literary History

The great American novel Moby Dick wasn’t written on a ship, or seashore: it was written in landlocked Pittsfield, in the Berkshire hills of western Massachusetts, where a snow-covered Mount Greylock stood in for the legendary white whale. The City of Pittsfield and the Berkshire Historical Society, stewards of Melville’s historic Pittsfield home, Arrowhead, aim to celebrate this surprising fact with an offbeat celebration this year.

The City of Pittsfield and a host of local and regional organizations are celebrating Melville’s creative legacy in the Berkshires this summer through Call Me Melville, an out-of-the-box summerlong festival. From historic theatre performed inside and on the grounds of Melville’s historic Pittsfield farmhouse, Arrowhead, to outdoor public art installations and contemporary art shows, Pittsfield aims to bring Melville to a new generation of readers, and to inspire creative interpretations of his works by artists, scholars, musicians, and more.

The centerpiece of Call Me Melville is an innovative, online community reading of Moby Dick: a chapter a day for 135 days, from Memorial Day weekend to Columbus Day weekend. Readers can join in from anywhere in the world with an internet connection Each day a chapter will be posted online on Facebook, Twitter and via email, with lively conversation and discussion encouraged. Call Me Melville has partnered with Power Moby Dick, which provides free access to a chapter by chapter annotated online edition of Moby Dick, and links to a free downloadable audiobook will be provided as well.

Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi is among those planning to read the book this summer. He noted, “We’re proud to celebrate history, creativity, and literacy in Pittsfield as we honor one of America’s greatest writers, Herman Melville, who wrote enduring works of literature right here in our city. I encourage everyone to join in by reading or rereading Moby Dick during the Call Me Melville celebration and exploring his other works through art, theatre, music, film, and more.”

Melville looked out his window at Arrowhead and saw not a mountain rising, but a great pale whale frozen in time.

Other programming highlights include:

  • Melville-inspired art shows at Ferrin Gallery, the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, and Arrowhead, all in Pittsfield, and Time & Space Limited in Hudson, NY.
  • A juried group photography show by the Show Up Show Off collective at Arrowhead.
  • Public art installations in downtown Pittsfield, including the Herman Melville Memorial Moby Dick Reciting Park Bench, which plays random readings from Moby Dick whenever someone sits on the bench, and a life-sized Moby Dick tableau by celebrated straw artist Michael Melle on the grounds of Arrowhead.
  • Children and family programs at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
  • Three original plays about Melville’s life in Pittsfield by the Voices Theatre Company.
  • A program exploring Melville’s close relationship with the Shakers at Hancock Shaker Village.
  • A festive luau at Arrowhead in honor of Melville’s early travels to the South Pacific, immortalized in his books Typee and Omoo.
  • A staged reading of Orson Welle’s play Moby Dick, Rehearsed, by the Berkshire Theatre Group.
  • A Call Me Melville themed 3rd.Thursdays on August 16th, in partnership with the WordXWord Festival, featuring readings, performances and a special appearance by the Brooklyn band Call Me Ishmael, who have written a song for each chapter in Moby Dick – 135 in all.
  • Talks & reading on scrimshaw, tattoos, Melville’s short stories, collecting Melville and more.
    A one man performance of Moby Dick by the acclaimed Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland in Pittsfield and North Adams.
  • A poetry shanty on the grounds of Arrowhead, where visitors can write and be inspired by the local landscape, as Melville was.
  • Whaling films at the Berkshire Museum.
  • The countywide self-guided Melville Trail is being updated and enhanced with an online version expected to debut soon, thanks to a grant from Housatonic Heritage.

Herman Melville's landlocked Pittsfield home "Arrowhead" didn't end his obsession with the sea and a whale.

Herman Melville and his family lived in Pittsfield, in the heart of the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts, for over a dozen years, beginning in 1851. It was his most fertile writing period, between his time at sea and his later years in New York City where he toiled as a customs agent. The Berkshire countryside is where Melville met his great good friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom he dedicated Moby Dick, and is where he wrote many of his most accomplished works: Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, and such short stories as I and My Chimney, Benito Cereno, Bartleby the Scrivener, and The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.

Call Me Melville is led by the City of Pittsfield Office of Cultural Development and the Berkshire Historical Society. Sponsors include the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Friends of the Berkshire Athenaeum, Power Moby Dick, and the Pittsfield Cultural Council. Programming partners include the Berkshire Athenaeum, the Berkshire Museum, the Berkshire Theatre Group, Hancock Shaker Village, Ferrin Gallery, Time & Space Limited, the WordXWord Festival, and others. Additional programs, partners, and sponsors are welcomed. For more information visit www.callmemelville.org, contact melvilleintheberkshires@gmail.com or call 413-499-9348.

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