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Thousands Line Up For Rare Rowling Appearance

Oct 17, 2012
Originally published on October 17, 2012 7:09 pm

While much of America was watching the second presidential debate, about 2,000 people — many of them between the ages of 20 and 40 — were doing something very different. They had gotten a rare and prized ticket to the only U.S. appearance by J.K Rowling, as she promotes her new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy.

The crowd was huge but happy — double the number originally planned, forcing the organizers to change venues. Attendees got a ticket to the Lincoln Center event and a copy of the book, which Rowling would later sign.

Two hours before the event, P.J. Clarke's, a noted before-theater restaurant across the street, was filled with fans of Rowling and Harry Potter. There were tables of 10 and 12 scattered about, reunions of people from all over the country. Andrew Slack, in his 30s, sat at one of the tables. Slack runs a Harry Potter-themed activism alliance: It sent five cargo planes to Haiti, he said, and founded libraries all over the world. He said Harry Potter shaped not only his life but his career.

"The two most significant things I have done since college have been being in romantic relationships for the first time, and reading Harry Potter," he said, "Now I do Harry Potter for a living, so yes, it's been my full-time job since 2007."

Other tables had people from Boston, Washington, D.C., Arkansas and Ohio. Melissa Lawson, a high school librarian from Chillicothe, Ohio, said she loved The Casual Vacancy. "It was so different from ... anything she had written before, but it was so interesting to see her voice applied to a very different style of narrative, and see the same social issues that you can pick out in Harry Potter, slated to an adult audience."

Outside the theater, other groups of friends from far-flung places were gathering, some from as far away as Paris — though Margaux Herrera is actually from Florida; she's studying in Paris and came back just for this. Herrera said she loves the new book but the Harry Potter books are what brought her back home.

"They remind me of my childhood the way music reminds you of things when you were younger," she said. "The reason we cling to these books isn't because they were fun and we grew up with them; we cling to them because of deeper themes, because of friendship and because of loyalty and because of human connections."

Inside the theater, when Rowling was finally introduced, the applause was long and thunderous. Author Ann Patchett took the stage to interview Rowling on themes that were exclusively adult — like structure, and the difficulty of portraying villains. Both agreed that it would be inappropriate for someone under 14 or 15 to read The Casual Vacancy.

The funniest line of the evening belonged to Rowling, on the difference between her book and Fifty Shades of Grey. People have sex in this book, she told the audience, but nobody really enjoys it.

After the interview, some questions and a reading, the audience went row by row to get their books autographed. The huge line resembled airport security — you even had to hold your ticket out, but no one was peevish. There were smiles and laughter everywhere. As people left the theater, Melissa Anelli, who runs the Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron, said she noticed something important. "No one was asking her about Dumbledore or Ron ... they wanted to know about writing for grown-ups, they wanted to know about the differences in theme, and that's nice."

This is the generation that grew up with J.K. Rowling, Anelli says. Now they're adults, and they're ready to take the next step along with her.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

While much of America was watching the second presidential debate last night, about 2,000 people were doing something very different. They had gotten a rare and prized ticket to the only appearance of J.K. Rowling in the United States as she promotes her new book for adults, "The Casual Vacancy." NPR's Margot Adler was there.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: It was one of the happiest groups of people I have ever seen in New York City, double the number originally planned. They had to change theaters. For some $40, you got a ticket to the Lincoln Center event, and you got a copy of the book, which she would later sign for you under very rigorous rules. Two hours before the event, P.J. Clarke's, a noted before-theater restaurant across the street, was filled with fans of Rowling and "Harry Potter." There were tables of 10 and 12 scattered about, reunions of people from all over the States.

ANDREW SLACK: The two most significant things I've done since college have been being in romantic relationships for the first time and reading "Harry Potter."

ADLER: Andrew Slack is in his 30s, and he runs The Harry Potter Alliance that does activism out of "Harry Potter." They sent five cargo planes to Haiti, he says, founded libraries in parts of the world. "Harry Potter" not only shaped his life, it shaped his career.

SLACK: Now, I do "Harry Potter" for a living, so, yes, it's been my full-time job since 2007.

ADLER: The people at this table were from Boston, Washington, D.C., Arkansas and Ohio. I asked Melissa Lawson, a high school librarian from Chillicothe, Ohio, if she liked "The Casual Vacancy."

MELISSA LAWSON: It was so different from anything that she'd written before, but it was so interesting to see her voice applied to a very different style of narrative, see the same social issues that you can pick out in "Harry Potter" slated to an adult audience. I loved it.

ADLER: So I'm going to guess that this is a bunch of J.K. Rowling, "Harry Potter" fans if I ever saw any.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Yeah.

ADLER: Outside the theater, other groups of friends gathered. Rosie Diaz, from Florida, said she hadn't traveled the farthest.

ROSIE DIAZ: There's a girl from Paris, yeah.

ADLER: Wait, wait, wait. You came from Paris...

MARGAUX HERRERA: Yeah.

ADLER: ...to come here?

HERRERA: Yeah.

ADLER: Margaux Herrera is from Florida, actually. She's studying in Paris and flew in for this. She also loves the new book, but "Harry Potter" is what brought her here.

HERRERA: They remind me of my childhood the way music reminds you of things when you were younger. The reason we cling to these books isn't because they were fun and we grew up with them. We cling to them because of deeper themes, because of friendship and because of loyalty and because of human connections.

ADLER: Inside, when Rowling was introduced, the applause was long and thunderous.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

ADLER: The event was not for the press, and they wouldn't allow recording of the interview. Rowling was interviewed by writer Ann Patchett. Patchett now runs an independent bookstore and told Rowling: You have done more for reading than anyone else in my life. The themes she asked about were totally adult, structure, the difficulty of portraying villains, and both agreed that it would be inappropriate for someone under 14 or 15 to read "The Casual Vacancy." Funniest line: Rowling said the difference between her book and "Fifty Shades of Grey," people have sex in this book, but nobody really enjoys it.

After the event, row by row, the audience went to get their copies autographed. The huge line resembled airport security. You even had to hold your ticket out, but no one was peevish. There were smiles and laughter everywhere. As people left the theater, Melissa Anelli, who runs the Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron, said, notice something.

MELISSA ANELLI: Nobody's asking her about Dumbledore or Ron or, you know? They wanted to know about writing for grown-ups. They wanted to know about the differences in theme, and it's just - that's nice.

ADLER: This is the generation that grew up with "Harry Potter," she says. Now, they're adults, and they're ready to take the next step along with her. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.