Attention UK Readers! LondonMoot is coming!

Get ready, dear readers in the United Kingdom, for the erudite nerdiness of Signum University and the Mythgard Institute to finally come to YOU! Later this month, on April 28, Signum U. (digital disseminators of some of the best and most accessible learning and teaching in imaginative fiction studies anywhere) will host its first London “moot” at the Sir David Davies lecture theater, Torrington Place.

A “moot,” of course, is a meeting of Ents (tree-people) in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; Signum’s version promises to feature few talking trees, allowing proceedings to be held at a slightly hastier pace. Signum/Mythgard has been hosting such moots around the US for a few years now, with their main gathering, Mythmoot, held annually over a weekend in Leesburg, Virginia.  [Read more…]

JKR Talks at the Elephant House, 1998

The Adeel Amini-J. K. Rowling Interview: Ten Years Later, Available Once Again

There have been few very-good-to-excellent interviews with J. K. Rowling in her twenty years of meetings with reporters, even fewer that have resulted in meaningful profiles of the author, given us answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, or provided insights to her work and her craft of writing. Off the top of my head, the very best have been Lev Grossman’s 2005 article for TIMEVal McDermid’s 2014 talk with ‘Robert Galbraith,’ Ian Parker’s New Yorker piece,Mugglemarch,’ in October, 2012, Ann Pratchett’s Q&A with her live at the Lincoln Center that same month, and Adeel Amini’s article from March, 2008.

These all share two qualities: the interviewers were respectful but not toady, willing to say to Rowling, “No, that’s not right” — and the interviews are for various reasons very difficult to access. Grossman’s article did not reveal a lot of what made his talk with Rowling a landmark event (he discusses why on his weblog and in our MuggleNet conversation). McDermid’s talk has never been transcribed to my knowledge and the Lincoln Center event is only available in four and five minute snatches on YouTube.

And then there’s the Amini interview.

Ten years ago Adeel Amini was a student in Edinburgh who was in his words a “clueless BAME journalist” (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic). He saw Rowling at a Starbucks and asked her for an interview. She agreed and they made a date to meet and talk four months later.

Incredibly, Amini had not read the Harry Potter novels.

More incredible? In speaking with Amini and a friend who had the books memorized, Rowling revealed things about herself — her faith, her psychological history, her writing projects, her thoughts about “fundamentalists,” her relationship with Fleet Street, her books, even what she meant when she said, “I’ve always thought of Dumbledore as gay” — that you would have thought required at least a quart of Veritaserum and gin to extract from her.

Amini was a wizard. And a prodigy.

The interview that Amini wrote up as an article for the Edinburgh Student was a bombshell and instant classic. Amini posted a pdf on his website — and then it disappeared. Only longish quotations from it were available online (this LeakyCauldron piece was the best reference). As the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars,” I was asked via emailon a regular basis for almost ten years if I had a copy secreted away.

I didn’t have a copy. No one I knew had one, either. I know because we asked each other. It became something of a proverb, the thing you know you read somewhere Rowling had said that brilliantly made your point — and cannot find on Accio-Quote or through prolonged Google searches. That was “an Amini quotation.”

And then one day early last month Adeel Amini’s profile jumped up on my LinkedIn page. I was asked by the social media genie if I wanted to send an invitation to him to connect. “Damn right I do,” I remember thinking. He responded promptly, positively, and we began a conversation about his sharing the interview again — and his talking about it. He’s scheduled now to do a Tenth Anniversary ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast on MuggleNet with me, Beatrice Groves, and host Kathryn McDaniel.

What had happened? Why was the article MIA for the better part of a decade? Read about it in the preface Adeel wrote for the Medium piece. In a nutshell, it was because he felt that Rowling was not well served by the global media’s focus on her having told him that she had once been suicidal and in desperate need of CBT therapy. Though the article was his potential Golden Key to open every media door in the UK, proof that he could deliver a spectacular interview with the world’s top celebrity, Amini pulled it from public view.

This week is the tenth anniversary of the article’s appearance.  Adeel has put it back up, he says, because:

For me, sharing the full original text of this interview is giving something back to Harry Potter fans who have been so kind over the years. It is also a reminder that my admiration for Jo Rowling has never once waned. There may have been stances I disagreed with it, routes I may not have taken, but there’s no doubt she remains one of the most inspiring and principled women I’ve ever met….

I still can’t convince myself to read [the article] again (mainly due to passages I’d be mortified by today) but in finally republishing this piece after 10 years I hope that I can repay some of that grace while reminding people – especially Potter fans – who they fell in love with to begin with.

As I said, incredible. Read the article and let me know what you think — and what you want me to ask Adeel when Katy, Beatrice, and I sit down to chat with him later this month.

J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (Runcie)

I neglected to mention in my list of ‘Best Rowling Interviews Ever’ James Runcie‘s 2007 BBC documentary, “J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life.” As with the other profiles, it wasn’t easy to access outside a Special Features DVD of Half-Blood Prince for several years. It’s available now on YouTube and rewards careful attention (the haircuts!) and a critical review (the things glossed over or not discussed). We’ll almost certainly never see JKR, Inc., participate again in anything this revealing, however controlled and always flattering to her that the production is. Enjoy!

Rowling’s Favorite Poem Found in Oz “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances”

We know more and less about J. K. Rowling than we think. We know, for instance, her favorite book and author, her favorite 20th Century writer, her favorite contemporary writer, and her favorite painting. We know her political leanings, her feelings about Brexit, President Trump, and Independence for Scotland, and we have been told what she thinks about Jonny Depp as Grindelwald and the supposed straight-washing of Dumbeldore. She has a very cute dog. She’s told the world what music she’d take with her to a desert island.

We don’t know, however, her favorite flavor of ice cream, her natural hair color (well, it’s not blonde or red), her plans for Cormoran Strike or Newt Scamander, or even if there will ever be a Lethal White (cue, ‘Over the Rainbow’). We don’t know which assertion she has made about C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to believe: “Cannot be in the same room with a copy and not pick it up to re-read” or “Never finished it.”

We don’t know her favorite poet. Cormoran Strike? He’s a big fan of Catullus. Jo Rowling? No idea.

This last week, though, while researching a mind-blasting revelation I’ll be sharing with you here soon, a fact that would have changed everyone’s thinking about Rowling as an author back in the Potter Wars and may do the same today (no joke), I stumbled on her favorite poem. It is Walt Whitman’s ‘Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances,’ published in the ‘Calamus’ section of the American poet’s Leaves of Grass.

Three notes about this find: (1) how we know it is Rowling’s favorite poem (and why it took nine years for the revelation to reach Potter Punditry), (2) it’s resonance with the Deathly Hallows epigraphs, and (3) it’s importance for understanding Rowling’s artistry and end-game as a writer.  [Read more…]