This fall, the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Public Library invite readers across the city to take a look at Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece, Moby Dick, through a uniquely Southern California lens. Throughout September and into early October, the Foundation and Library will present “What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?,” a month-long city-wide adventure into the minds of Melville, Ahab, and the great white whale itself. With activities scattered from Highland Park to Venice, Granada Hills to San Pedro, the project will consider whether a 500-page novel published in 1851 can speak across the ages to a person in Southern California in the 21st Century.

Raymond Pettibon, “No Title (His transformation is)”, 2009.
Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles ©Raymond Pettibon


“As the cultural hub of our city, the Los Angeles Public Library is the ideal place to pose this question and explore its answers,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo.  “We are excited to discover and investigate Moby Dick together as a community in our libraries, from film screenings in Hollywood to nautical rope knots in San Pedro, sea shanties in Hancock Park to navigating by the stars in Studio City.”

Library Foundation President Ken Brecher adds, “Los Angeles is a city of storytellers, and every day someone finds a new touch point to the story of Moby Dick.  When an urban library system becomes the vehicle for public discussion, we are able to arrive at a new way of looking at literature.”

The project will also have a particular focus on the science within Moby Dick, with leading scholars D. Graham Burnett, Antonio Damasio, Margaret Wertheim, and Carl Zimmer examining the scientific underpinnings of key themes and elements, science workshops throughout the libraries, and partnerships with the Aquarium of the Pacific and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.

Kicking off the first week of September, the project will feature over 90 librarian-created events and activities across the six regions of the Los Angeles Public Library.  Covering a range of subjects including marine biology, literature, astronomy, art, music, sailing, film, cosmetics, and the environment – as well as a very special soon-to-be-announced pop-up celebrity reading – library patrons across the Southland will have the opportunity to engage with the story like never before. 

Melville-minded Tweeters will be invited to send their best 140-character summary of the epic novel to @LibraryFoundLA Sept. 1 through 14.  Judged by a panel of literary luminaries, winners of the Summarizing Moby Dick Twitter Contest will have their entries incorporated into the project’s concluding event, published online by the Los Angeles Review of Books, and receive a special Moby Dick prize package.

The Library Foundation’s award-winning and critically-acclaimed ALOUD series will draw the fun to downtown’s Central Library on Sept. 26, as playwright and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, and media expert Henry Jenkins discuss their new approach for teaching Moby Dick in the age of YouTube and hip hop.  And on October 6, ALOUD welcomes Princeton professor D. Graham Burnett, historian of science and energetic polymath, to offer a sweeping history of how science, politics, and sheer wonder have transformed humanity’s understanding – and love – of whales.

On Sept. 25, the Hammer Museum joins in the pursuit with a screening of LEVIATHAN, the 2012 experimental documentary about commercial fishing on the high seas and a special Moby Dick meeting of the Libros Schmibros Book Club on Sept. 29. Also in September, look for copies of Moby Dick embedded in Little Free Libraries across the city.

On Oct. 5, the project will culminate with “My Moby Dick,” a surprising evening of theatrical performance, quotes, misquotes and cutting-edge science at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica.  Helmed by award-winning director David Schweizer, this one-time-only multimedia event will take a uniquely Los Angeles look at the literary masterpiece with a community of actors, thinkers, scientists, and include a specially commissioned film component created by the award-winning team of Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton.  For tickets, visit The Broad’s box office or website.

The Library Foundation of Los Angeles is grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the WHH Foundation for their generous support of the project.

To learn more about Moby Dick and upcoming activities (both during September and beyond), please visit or ask your neighborhood librarian.