After-Action Report on the Amazing Roanoke Harry Potter Festival!

In case you did not see all the stars shooting up over the Star City of Roanoke recently, May 12 and 13 marked a very special event. The town’s first ever-Harry Potter festival was fantastic and included a rare gathering of the four Image may contain: textHogwarts Professor Faculty Members in one place! John Granger, Elizabeth Baird Hardy, Louise Freeman, and Emily Strand don’t usually get to be at the same event in real life, as most of our faculty meetings are virtual ones, so it was a great experience for us to chat, record a live podcast for the new Reading, Writing, Rowling podcast (stay tuned for more on that!), and take part in a festival that was both academically rich and fun for everyone. We’ll each be sharing our thoughts on this wonderful event, which we joined primarily through the tireless efforts of Dr. Lana Whited, friend of this blog, professor at Ferrum College, and Minister of Magical Education for the Festival. Dr. Whited put together a stellar program, and we were all delighted to be part of it, though we were in different areas, which means we have some different insights on this enchanting festival that we all hope will invite us back in 2018!

Elizabeth’s thoughts

I always enjoy talkiImage may contain: one or more people and indoorng about literature, but it’s hard to beat talking about literature while dressed up as Professor Sprout and waving weird (real) plants at children! It’s also hard to beat a venue like the Roanoke Public Library, which was about the nicest place I could imagine having my lectures on Muggle Medicinal Plants and Literary Fantastic Beasts.

The library was itself a mini-festival, with kids’ activities like “potions” (making slime) and “edible wands,” educational programs (including mine) all day, live wizard chess Image may contain: 2 people, people standingoutside, characters from the books posing for pictures, and the challenging, terrifying, and completely awesome experience: Escape from the Restricted Section(I was busy talking the whole time, but my lovely assistant, my daughter Isabella, helped out with other activities and reported their roaring success)!

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

The staff was phenomenal, taking great care of both volunteers and patrons and making the day magical! I had wonderful “students,” for my programs, and I loved sharing with them, answering questions, and hearing their ideas. One of my best pupils was a young man who answered all of my questions so astutely that I questioned why he was wearing Gryffindor T-shirt instead of a Ravenclaw one! The event’s T-shirts were lovely, actually and, like everything else there, professional, creative, and first-class! In between lectures, I was on a fun panel with our headmaster here, John Granger, as well as Kathryn McDaniel, who is an absolutely terrific host! She also moderated our live podcast Friday night, which was one of the most wonderful experiences of all. For this podcast, we were also joined by Dr. Whited, and we were able to discuss some of our favorite elements from the books. It was just wonderful to have this conversation in person!Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

Though we were all very busy and rushing between venues, it was a fantastic event, even more so when one considers it is the first time it’s been held. The turn-out was incredible, with huge crowds everywhere, but local police officers were friendly and helpful as they helped folks get around in the streets. The merchants and others in the city really got behind the festival and made it fun for everyone, so I can’t wait to see what they brew up for 2018! Watch out for more after-action reports for the rest of our magical faculty here, and watch for the date of next year’s festival; you will want to mark your calendar with a big star for this one!Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

Comments

  1. John’s Thoughts

    I was invited by Ferrum College’s Lana Whited to serve as Keynote Speaker at the first Roanoke Harry Potter Festival. Every serious reader of Harry Potter owes Prof Whited a great debt; she published the first collection of quality interpretations of the Hogwarts Saga, The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, during the peak of the Potter Panic and followed up with updates to that volume and an all-new Critical Insights volume on the subject of The Boy Who Lived after Deathly Hallows was published.

    As much as we all owe her (and Professor Kathryn Grimes, also of Ferrum College), I owe her special debts as a Potter Pundit. She hosted panel discussions at Nimbus 2003, the first HPEF conference, and stewarded me into a world that has been my home the last fifteen years. Lana has also graced podcasts I have hosted on MuggleNet Academia about Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and helped me tease out answers to questions I could not get a grip on via email without ever suggesting any kind of payback.

    So of course I went to Roanoke. That the rest of the HogwartsProfessor faculty and Kathryn McDaniel, the host of MuggleNet’s new ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast would also be there made that easy decision a no-brainer. What I didn’t expect was what I experienced there.

    First, Roanoke is not convenient to anywhere. I flew into Raleigh, North Carolina, for instance, and drove along winding roads for hours to arrive in the mountain glens of Roanoke. It is a beautiful city, “charming,” I think, is the right word if overused for ante bellum jewels with a dynamic currency and culture that serves as the heart of the region. I did not expect especially large crowds or the sort of Potter fans you meet, say, at St Andrews or even in Orlando.

    What I encountered was a gathering of more than 8,500, I’d guess about 2/5ths of whom were in some kind of costume — and the great majority had a tee-shirt, button, hat, or signifier of some kind that testified to the depth of their relationship with the Chosen One. The organizers begged us to teach extra classes at the last minute because the online registration had filled every opening at our talks as soon as they were open. I gave four classes and sat on two panels in six hours and every audience was filled with attentive, thoughtful, and, yes, serious readers.

    Second, this was a first year venture organized by well-intentioned, but, forgive me, amateur committee members. Now it helps if your uncompensated staff includes Potter Pundits of international reputation like Profs Whited and Grimes, but, really, my expectations for venues, AV equipment, and crowd management were pretty low. I saw what the first HPEF convention and first LeakyCon were like and I heard about the first Chestnut Hill Conference was like from the organizers in the second year (which made me glad I’d missed the first). I saw 5,000 fans in Oklahoma City last summer in blazing heat essentially stand in place on Western Avenue with next to nothing to do, see, or hear, the size of the crowd having whelmed all preparations.

    I imagine the Roanoke Harry Potter Festival committee members each have lists of things they wish they’d done differently and which they plan on doing better next year. For a first time event of this magnitude, however, you’d have to be pretty jaded not to think of it as a Grand Slam. There were Quidditch matches, Wizard Rock bands, two Feasts with Harry Potter role players in convincing character and costumes (and the catered buffets were outstanding, believe it or not), street vendors and actors, and, quite frankly, talks and panel discussions that only Chestnut Hill surpasses for a one day gathering, a conference in its fifth year and with the financial support of a remarkable college and community.

    Three of my favorite memories:

    (1) Arriving downtown at a grand hotel, the faculty-in-residence were treated like royalty to dinner, drinks, and dessert. Prof Whited then whisked off the HogwartsProfessors and Kathryn McDaniel to a business incubator office building and the six of us recorded a podcast for MuggleNet in a state of the art studio. In my too many years of talking ‘artistry and meaning,’ I cannot remember a space in which there was so much Potter Punditry per square foot as there was in that Roanoke recording booth. And we had a blast answering Katy McDaniel’s questions (you’ll hear it soon enough!). The night cap back at the hotel was an off-the-cuff Facebook live discussion. Already this was a gathering to remember.

    (2) Giving talks in a Planetarium. Hands down, weirdest and greatest venue ever, especially for a ring composition talk. You had to be there, I guess, but, y’know, it worked wonderfully when it might have been a debacle. Who would have it would work as well as it did? (“Ummm, Lana Whited?” “Right in one, Ron!”)

    (3) Walking between the Science Museums Building that hosted the talks, through the public square and marketplace of downtown Roanoke, and into the Festival Head quarters where the Feasts were held — and being surrounded by thousands of happy families, fans, and new friends celebrating the magic of their favorite fantasy novels. It was a Disneyland or Universal Wizarding World commercial without any of the disappointment and meanness of theme park reality, an unjaded immersion, an innocent, imaginative magic.

    Congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in putting this together, especially the Minister of Magical Education, Prof Whited, the Deputy Headmistress of the event, Prof Grimes, and the technical wizard that made our podcast happen, Matthew Jones of Dash2Events.com. There’s a rumor already in the winds that Dr. Amy H. Sturgis will be there next year, almost guaranteeing that the HogwartsProfessors and Reading, Writing, Rowling will make the trip, too. I’m already looking forward to it — and to seeing you in Roanoke as well!

  2. Emily Strand says:

    Thanks for this post, Elizabeth! Roanoke was a wonderful experience that I hope becomes annual. My favorite part of the festival was having my husband and son (almost 6) there with me. In preparation for attending, I read my son Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time, and he has since become a VERY big Potter fan, sporting his Hogwarts t-shirt as often as he can, deciding that Hedwig is is favorite character (!) and declaring that he is, unlike his Gryffindor mom and Hufflepuff dad, a Ravenclaw! What a diverse home we now have.

    Another favorite moment was during my second Quidditch talk, having a student question whether James Potter was a Quidditch Chaser as I claimed, or whether he was a Seeker. Thanks to everyone having a smart phone these days, we were able to discover – mid-lecture! – that it was a books-vs.-films point of confusion. (JKR has said James was a Chaser, the films changed him to a Seeker.) But the challenge from the student was welcome, and it gave me a chance to reflect on the HP films and how they subtly erode our symbolic understandings of the text, which I wrote about in a post called “Why the Harry Potter Books are Better,” the title of which clearly reveals my bias!

    Many thanks to Dr. Whited and all those very magical Muggles who so very expertly made this festival go. Until next year!

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