Leaky Cauldron site founder Melissa Anelli on Harry Potter mania

    Melissa Anelli will be speaking at Northwestern Sept. 18. Photo by Michael McWeeney.

    In the years between 2000 and 2003, the Internet was evolving. Blogging platforms, predecessors to modern technology such as Facebook, Blogger and Twitter ruled the Web. Finally, everyone was connected, and for Harry Potter fans, in the throes of a three-year-long wait in between the fourth and fifth book in the world’s most popular series, the connection was a godsend.

    The Leaky Cauldron emerged from the online obsession as the number one Harry Potter news source, helmed by webmistress Melissa Anelli. In 2008, Anelli released Harry, A History describing the evolution of the online Harry Potter fandom, as well as her own personal experience at the forefront of the movement.

    “[The Internet] connected a global network of very impatient people so that they could wait together,” Anelli says. She will be speaking in Cahn Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18. A former journalist for MTV and the Staten Island Advance, she transformed her interest in Harry Potter into a profitable career. She currently works as a freelance journalist while working on her second book.

    Anelli has been following the Potter phenomenon since shortly after the release of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, watching the “Harry Potter fandom” grow into the online behemoth it is today. Even years after the release of the last new material (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in the summer of 2007), fans lined up to make Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the biggest box-office hit of the summer.

    At the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon existed an underground world of fan fiction (stories written about the Harry Potter universe by fans — some abysmal, some approaching readable), fan art and RPGs. But as the fans waited for the fifth book’s release, the hype increased and the community grew to massive proportions.

    “We had this very long incubation period where we had no new books. All the publicity and word of mouth had been growing and growing, and the release of the fourth book just made things explode,” Anelli says. “All we could really do is spend time together online and make fan creations.”

    The Harry Potter fandom may not be a unique phenomenon — after all, fan-made Star Wars and Star Trek books and movies have been churned out for years. But the addition of the Internet transformed the underground world of Harry Potter to a legitimate business enterprise approved and endorsed by the creator herself.

    Anelli, a graduate of Georgetown University, used her contacts from the school’s newspaper The Hoya to reach out to Warner Bros. representatives, hoping to attend press junkets and answer questions from the fans. “Harry Potter was really the first fandom to take the Internet and use it for its purposes,” Anelli says. “Nobody really appreciated the value yet because no one really had a test case.” But once Warner Brothers began to realize the inherent value in reaching out to the online community, Anelli began receiving invitations to press junkets. By 2004, she was standing on the red carpet at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

    Work on Harry: A History began a few years ago. While Anelli had a good relationship with J.K. Rowling prior to writing the book, she was still intimidated by the Potter scribe, who had previously turned down interviews with the likes of Oprah.

    “I realized that I had to just buck up and ask her if she wanted to be interviewed for the book,” Anelli says. Rowling agreed, and after a two-day interview agreed to write the forward for the book.

    “I just asked. It’s awesome.”

    Proceeds from the book allowed Anelli to quit her job at the Staten Island Advance, and she is currently working on another, non-Potter-related book. While trained as a journalist, she said she has, by far, had the most success combining her career training with her personal interests.

    “I think that people have to stop thinking about journalism as a byline on page A1,” she says. ” Journalism now is so much more than that. And if you find something, no matter what it is, that you want to write about, report on, you’ve got to just focus yourself on it. It will take creativity and help, but when you find the thing that you’re willing to go above and beyond on, that’s the key, that’s always the key.”

    Anelli will relate more about her experiences with journalism and the Harry Potter phenomenon Friday night.

    “I’m excited to speak in the places where the people have been most affected by the Harry Potter phenomenon,” Anelli said.


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