Building Community Through Literature

The annual UCLA English Marathon Reading celebrates literature and community by staging the oral reading of an entire novel with dozens of contributing readers.

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.

In 1996, the English Department held it's first ever Marathon Reading event

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.

John Lithgow and Rosa Parks among notable readers

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

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The annual UCLA English Marathon Reading celebrates literature and community by staging the oral reading of an entire novel with dozens of contributing readers.

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