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Students work to bring J.K. Rowling to campus

BY CHRIS HIGGINS | FEBRUARY 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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Writing a letter could be as easy as waving a wand if a student organization’s plan moves forward.

The University of Iowa Lecture Committee has initiated a letter-writing campaign in an attempt to draw J.K. Rowling — famed author of the Harry Potter series — to campus in the spring of 2016.

“I think how they’re doing this is really cool, because it gets that personal touch,” UI freshman Brianna Buzick said. “I’m sure she gets tons of invitations. I like how it adds that student touch, and hopefully, they will persuade her to come.”

The committee is encouraging students to write letters about how they have been “inspired or affected by her,” which the panel will collect and send to the writer.

Media coverage of Rowling’s speeches, Q&A sessions, and the like over the past few years is frequently peppered with the term “rare public appearance.”

Rowling gave the commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008 in one such appearance.

“I found out she does not do speaking arrangements officially,” said Nathaniel Richmond, the head of the Lecture Committee. “That made me think it was a terrible idea initially.”

However, Richmond said, the committee decided to proceed with the idea and selected a letter-writing campaign — lasting from today to May 13 — to mark the effort to attract Rowling.

“This is very atypical for us,” he said. “Typically, when we pick a speaker, they are very open to speaking for us.”

As part of the invitation, the Lecture Committee will offer to donate money to a Rowling charitable nonprofit organization.

Though UI students will drive the campaign, several other local organizations have become involved, including the Iowa City School District, the Iowa City Public Library, the UI Honors Program, the UNESCO City of Literature, and the Iowa Youth Writing Project.

The School District is gathering student letters through a librarian endeavor.

UI senior Emily Mueller said she was “ all for it” and noted the vast hold the Harry Potter series has over popular culture.

“[Rowling’s] played a huge role in our childhoods at this point,” she said. “Her work is such a big part of our lives. Even if you, yourself, weren’t a huge fan of the books, it was probably on your reading list. It was something you were familiar with, and it’s part of your cultural background.”

UI graduate student Ryan Young said the series was “definitely a big part of my childhood.”

“I remember when I was in the seventh grade on vacation driving through the Rockies,” Young said. “We had to drive two hours to find a grocery store that had it.”

Richmond described the push as a “statewide campaign” and said he hopes to garner hundreds, if not thousands, of letters from around Iowa.

“It’s off the beaten path,” he said. “We’re trying to be creative and make our invitation stand out.”

The Lecture Committee is brainstorming other ways to persuade Rowling to visit and is also planning to reach out to Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street and ask her to speak.

Should Rowling accept the invitation, Richmond said, it would be “indescribable” and “amazing” to bring to the UI someone who he painted as “the author of a generation.”


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