Larson, Susan. "New Orleans students give Rowling a rousing welcome." Times-Picayune, 18 October 2007.
She came, she read, she enchanted.
Writer J.K. Rowling held 1,600 New Orleans public school students in a state of rapt attention Thursday as she read and signed copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" during a promotional appearance at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Entering to a standing ovation, Rowling made her way to a throne-like chair, centered on a carpet, next to a reading table with red flowers. It was the archetypal image of the reading moment -- a woman, a book, a circle of light.
Rowling read a scene of farewell from the third chapter of the book, when Harry bids adieu to the Dursleys, his Muggle family. She elicited laughter from her young audience when she mimicked the voices of her characters -- Aunt Petunia, Daedelus Diggle -- but most seemed content merely to hear the familiar words in the creator's voice.
Rowling's rare public appearance in New Orleans followed a reading in Los Angeles on Monday; the tour moves Friday to New York, where she will read twice, once for public school students and later for an audience of sweepstakes winners, including five from Louisiana, at Carnegie Hall.
The decision to include New Orleans in her three-city U.S. tour is part of an ongoing commitment by her publisher, Scholastic Inc., to help fund the Gulf Coast Recovery effort for schools and libraries. In addition to providing books for the students in attendance, Scholastic donated 10,000 copies to area public schools and 100 sets of the books to the New Orleans Public Library.
There may not be many children left who haven't already read it: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final book in the record-breaking series, was released July 21 and sold 8.3 million books in the first 24 hours.
Following her brief reading from the book, Rowling answered pre-selected questions from a dozen local students who were as familiar with her life story as they were with the adventures of the boy wizard.
The question topics ranged from the personal -- her childhood experiences, the first piece of literature that inspired her ("The Wind in the Willows," by Kenneth Grahame, read to Rowling when she was 4 and suffering from the measles) -- to the political.
"I very consciously wanted to show what is one of the great evils of war, which is that totally innocent people are slaughtered," Rowling told the children. "Another great evil of war is that children lose their families."
"Do you believe that good always overcomes evil?" asked Naresha Dumas of Warren Easton High School.
"That depends on what you mean by 'overcomes,' " Rowling said, referring to Harry Potter's battle against the evil Lord Voldemort. "But as long as people are prepared to keep fighting ... it's amazing how small acts of kindness can add up, just living in a moral way, treating other people kindly."
Students also asked about the fate of favorite characters. Rowling told them that she thought Luna Lovegood, one of her favorites, became a great naturalist, "though I don't knew whether she ever found any Crumple-horned Snorkacks."
Cho Chang? "Cho married a Muggle."
Dwayne Lockett, of Alice Harte Elementary, asked what advice Rowling could give students who wanted to write, especially if their grades weren't the best.
"If you'd seen my grades in chemistry. . ." Rowling said. "That's why Snape teaches Potions."
Then, after the audience groaned, she said, "Don't say awwww! He deserved it! We can all think of teachers we'd like revenge on."
"What did you personally learn from writing these books?" asked Emily Chen of Lusher Charter School.
"We could be here for three hours," Rowling said. "This has been 17 years of my life. I had three children during the time I was writing these books."
At one point in the question-and-answer period, a student spoke for the entire audience, shouting out, "I love you!"
"Thank you for that," Rowling said.
The question and answer period was followed by a book-signing, with Rowling signing specially stickered editions for each student in attendance.
The limiting of the audience to Orleans Parish students angered some suburban Potter fans who felt Scholastic should have reached out to young readers from the entire metropolitan area. But inside the Convention Center, the lucky Orleans Parish students -- 20 each from 80 public schools, including charter schools -- were beaming over their good fortune.
"I'm going to go home and write about this on my blog in MySpace and post a picture of my book," said Dominique Devezin, a junior at Algiers Technology Academy.
"I'm going to read, read, read. My kids will read all these books," said Kari Fleming, a sophomore at Walter L. Cohen High School. "And someday, I'm going to call my great-great-grandkids and sit them on my lap, and I'll say, 'Let me tell you about the time I met J.K. Rowling.'¤"
Book editor Susan Larson can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3457.
Original page date 18 Oct 2007; last updated 18 Oct 2007.