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Melville still matters

Two of Albany's most famous sons will be bookending a special event that pays tribute to one of the area's literary lions in a symposium set for this weekend at the Albany Academy on Academy Road in Albany.

William Kennedy, author of Ironweed and O Albany, will begin the 24-hour reading of Moby-Dick that is the centerpiece of Why Melville Matters Now at the Albany Academy and Albany Academy for Girls. The nation's favorite curmudgeon, CBS' 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney, will conclude the reading.

Rooney and Melville are both Albany Academy alumni " albeit from slightly different graduating classes.

In addition to the reading " shared by a great number of volunteers " there are a number of lectures and panel discussions that will focus on Melville and his works.

Melville was born in New York City in 1819, but his mother was from Gansevoort, and when Melville's father went bankrupt in 1830, the family moved to Albany, where Herman attended the Albany Academy. The family later lived in Lansingburgh.

Melville's love affair with water and boats may well have begun during one of his first jobs, working as a surveyor on the Erie Canal. He later took seafaring jobs that took him to the South Pacific " and led to the tale of the white whale, Billy Budd, and one that was most beloved when he was alive, Typee. He died in relative obscurity in 1891, but his works saw a comeback in the 20th century.

Kathleen Thornton will help explain why Melville is important now when she presents "Melville " Now More than Ever" in this weekend's symposium.

"Melville's voice resonates with this generation," the lecturer and director of English undergraduate advisement at the University at Albany said. "Melville wrote when a war was going on and the nation was struggling with boundaries between free states and slave states. We're still struggling with boundaries in a civil war, even if it's not our civil war. Melville rejects the idea that everything is as it should be. There's a lot of ambiguity in what he writes."

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