The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Tolonda Henderson

Hear “When Fandom Wears a  Cap and Gown: Academic Perspectives on Harry Potter”
Where: Nashua Public Library, 2 Court St., Nashua
When: Wednesday, June 10, at 7 p.m.
Admission: Free, open to the public
Contact: 589-4610,
Hear her slam
What: Henderson is also a slam poet and will be performing as the featured guest at the weekly Slam Free or Die event. She has no Harry Potter slam-length poems (which are typically around three minutes) but has written Harry Potter flash fiction for her chapbook, called Phoenix.
Where: Milly’s Tavern, 500 N. Commercial St., Manchester, back function room
When: Thursday, June 11, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.)

Studying the magic
Harry Potter scholar visits Nashua Library

By Kelly Sennott

Believe it or not, reading and writing about Harry Potter is a real job.

People who do this are called Harry Potter scholars, and they differ from traditional fans in a few ways. They read and re-read the books constantly, but instead of translating that effort into Harry Potter fan art, fan fiction, clothes, costume or cosplay, they write academic papers and attend — yes, these exist, too — Harry Potter conferences.
The line dividing the two is slim — because, let’s face it, who studies Harry Potter without knowing what a horcrux is, or without visiting — but there is a distinction, and former Nashua resident Tolonda Henderson will talk about that distinction during a presentation Wednesday, June 10, at the Nashua Public Library.
The George Washington University librarian’s lecture is called “When Fandom Wears a Cap and Gown: Academic Perspectives on Harry Potter.” It discusses the ways academics are using the series, but it narrows in on her own studies as part of the library’s 2015 reading theme, “heroes” — specifically on whether Ron Weasley is a traditional hero’s sidekick.
Most people, she said, are fascinated with the idea that Harry Potter studies is a thing. Once, a guy stopped and hugged her when she told him her academic concentration.
“He said to me, ‘Now I know there is a God!’ Even the concept existing made his whole day better,” Henderson said. “People often ask, ‘How do you study Harry Potter?’ But it’s a children’s book! People study children’s books all the time.”
Henderson, who’s also a slam poet, has been touring this presentation across the East Coast. Her magical  academic career began about four years ago with a first-year GW writing course. She was giving a presentation on how to use the library’s resources with the same professor who’d put together a GW course on Mad Men. This class’s assignment was to build a paper around Harry Potter.
“The expectation was that [the students] had already read the books, so when they came in, we hit the ground running. They came up with ideas for papers before the semester had even started,” Henderson said.
The students’ topics ranged from dementors and depression (they would utilize the university library’s psychology databases) to family upbringing and politics. The students were incredibly enthused, but so was Henderson.
“I was also bored already with what I was studying,” Henderson said. “I didn’t even know Harry Potter studies was a thing until then.” (Academic librarians often have expectations of scholarship or service to the profession, Henderson said, and at the time, she was also trying to publish some of the work she’d done in grad school.)
Harry Potter scholars, Henderson said, take the books and look at them in new, different ways. Sometimes these topics are in relation to the literature itself, but others span subjects like pop culture, science, business, art, feminism and fat studies. In her own papers, she’s tackled themes like communication, library and disability studies. Last February, she attended a Harry Potter conference presented by the Southwest Popular Culture/American Culture Association.
“I spent three days giving and hearing presentations about Harry Potter. There was a massive argument about whether the movies are canon or pre-canon. It was the best three days of my life,” she said.
Occasionally she’s met with skepticism — lots of people say that academic work should focus on older texts or traditions — but she argues the phenomenon itself is remarkable and already established. She knows people who’ve traveled three hours to attend midnight book launch events, and within the texts themselves, there’s so much there. 
“Every child has probably thought, ‘I don’t fit in here. I must be from somewhere else.’ Harry actually is,” Henderson said. “But the world [J.K. Rowling] creates is compelling, and it’s interesting.” 
As seen in the June 4, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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