Amid the pounding of jackhammers from Student Union construction, the 28-hour reading of Thomas Wolfe's novel, "Look Homeward, Angel" wrapped up Tuesday in the Pit with a centennial birthday celebration for the author.
Students, faculty and other members of the UNC community gathered at noon as a 4-foot-long birthday cake was sliced in remembrance of the famous UNC alumnus.
Leading the event was English Professor Joseph Flora, chairman of the Thomas Wolfe Centennial Committee.
"The Thomas Wolfe Centennial Committee has been planning for two years for the celebration of Wolfe's 100th birthday," said Amy Brannock, director of Arts Carolina. "Most of the celebration has been conducted on the UNC campus, but there have been events all over North Carolina."
Wolfe's first and most famous novel, "Look Homeward, Angel," was read by 80 volunteers for 20 minutes each.
Chancellor James Moeser began the readings at 8 a.m. Monday and was followed by students, faculty and other volunteers. Other dignitaries, including Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf, joined students and professors in the reading. Student Body President Brad Matthews read the last pages of the book at noon Tuesday.
"Students were very involved; some of them brought sleeping bags while the reading continued through the night," Flora said. "People were calling us from Greensboro and Winston-Salem asking to come and read here."
Graduate students from the Department of English also took part in the celebration. Miranda Wilson and Andrew Leiter were just two of the students who participated in the event.
Wilson made schedules and copied manuscripts, while Leiter organized substitute readers for the 28-hour presentation.
"We could not have done this without the help of the students," Flora said. "I had worked with Miranda before, so I knew she was good, but she really helped us out this time."
Many of the students said they came out of respect for the famous writer and because they enjoyed American literature.
"I was just interested in the event," said Tara Powell, a graduate student in English, as she handed out cake.
Other organizations, including Thomas Wolfe's fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, read some of Wolfe's works, and actors from PlayMakers Repertory Company acted out a section of the novel in front of the audience in the Pit.
Thomas Wolfe's 100th birthday is also being commemorated by U.S. Postal Service with the release of a stamp in remembrance of his work and life -- and a large display of the stamp's design stood next to the readers in the Pit throughout the event.
The grand finale of the birthday celebration was the singing of "Happy Birthday" by the Loreleis, a female campus a cappella group. The crowd of nearly 100 students, faculty and staff was then served a huge birthday cake.
In addition to free cake, organizers also offered the crowd pins and posters marking the event.
UNC-system President Molly Broad read at lunchtime Monday. She said she thought Wolfe would be proud of the University on the 100th anniversary of his birthday.
"I think Thomas Wolfe would see the same deep love in this space, learning and building a community, as he saw in the Carolina of his era."
Tyler Maland contributed to this
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