John Granger: Three Minute PhD Thesis

Swansea University, at which I am pursuing a PhD in English through a collaboration with the University of Central Oklahoma (read about that here), has a contest each year called ‘Three Minute Thesis.’ I’d never heard of it but was told it is a big deal not only in Wales but globally; more than 200 universities participate. I decided to give it a go, both to clarify the thesis for my own work, crystallize it really, and as an exercise in public speaking.

As a rule, I do not read a paper when I give a talk. This has the great advantage of bringing the exchange to life. Not being scripted, however, dynamism aside, has the downsides of making it very hard to know exactly how long the presentation will actually be. My best talks are solo performances, consequently, of about an hour in length before a large crowd. My embarrassing memories ‘on stage’ are all from academic events before fifteen or twenty people, at which events everyone else reads their exactly fifteen minute long papers — and GilderJohn goes over and gets cut off. Ouch.

Why not practice a timed talk, then, that wasn’t just read, a practice I find borderline unforgivable in a speaker? (“I didn’t travel all this way to hear you read; I can read the paper later and get more out of it that way. I want to hear you speak with me as an expert, not demonstrate your literacy…”) Why not try to speak from memory and within a set time? I decided to give it a try.

So I wrote out a ‘three minute thesis’ talk, timed it, cut it, timed it, cut it, timed it, and added a sentence and phrase here and there. Then I memorized it, practiced it with stop watch, made changes, and memorized that version. Rinse, repeat. The Swansea event is live in front of an audience of 200 (large by uni standards, I know, not fandom conferences); I had to record my talk in Oklahoma with a web-connection to Swansea before an audience of two. [Read more…]

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!