It's been seven years and five insanely popular books since author J. K. Rowling last wowed American disciples with a live reading. That explains the Beatlemania-esque shrieks from 1,600 lucky Los Angeles teens and preteens who listened on Monday morning to Rowling read a bit of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," her seventh and final book in this best-selling series. Afterward she met with and signed copies of her book for each of the children, all of whom had competed in a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) essay competition to win a coveted seat at today's event at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.
When Rowling stepped onto the Kodak Theater stage, famous as the venue for the annual Academy Awards, she was greeted with a lengthy chorus of soprano screams more normally lavished upon pubescent boy bands than book writers. The kids were selected from 40 schools in the LAUSD. Glammed up, Rowling looked more like a Hollywood screen star than a children's author. "She's so pretty," gushed one 13-year old girl. "I want to be just like her one day; pretty and a great author." It was the first stop on Rowling's three-city Open Book Tour, sponsored by her U.S. publisher, Scholastic. She will give a repeat performance this Thursday in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Auditorium in the Convention Center, and will end her U.S. engagement on Friday night at New York City's Carnegie Hall. Of the 1,600 children attending, 12 were singled out for their essays to ask questions of Rowling after the reading. "I wrote an essay about how Harry Potter changed the way I think about books," explained 11-year-old Ryan Garay from Edison Middle School, who showed up to the reading wearing a Harry Potter black cloak. "Harry Potter is more exciting than a video game. And I'd like to be a writer when I grow up and write books just like these." Rowling, whose latest book sold 8.3 million copies in its first 24 hours, seemed eager to answer the children's questions. She sat atop a gilded and red velvet Romanesque throne with oversized Potter books all around. On whether or not she had an imagination as a child: "Yes, I was a great day dreamer. And it was an ambition to be a writer that came from childhood and never left me." On support from her family as a young writer. "No one in my family thought writing was a sensible idea. Ironic, really, as it turned out." On her inspiration: "I had a really great English teacher, so a good English teacher is gold. But my daughter Jessica actually was the true inspiration, the person who gave me a sense of self worth."
Rowling also spoke briefly with reporters, though she seemed to enjoy her interaction with the school children much more. She pondered why some religious groups protest the Potter series for its wizardry. "I believe passionately in freedom of expression and of speech," she said. "I've always taken the banning of my books as a compliment, if you look at which other authors are on that list. In a way it's great advertising." She told the press that she would not retire and would continue to write, though not just yet. "I will always write but I do feel as if I'm on vacation. For the first time in 10 years, I don't have a deadline," she said, explaining that she didn't know which genre she would choose next. "I'm spending time with my kids and I'm really enjoying that."