The Wizardly Editor Who Caught the Golden Snitch

Arthur Levine bought the U.S. rights to
Arthur Levine bought the U.S. rights to "Potter" when J.K. Rowling was unknown. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)

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By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007

NEW YORK -- There are a lot of great things about being the Man Who Brought Harry Potter to America: You don't have to care about the latest Potter movie (which opened last night at midnight), for example, or the bazillion-copy print run for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (on sale July 21) or the Harry Potter theme park scheduled to go into competition with Disney World as early as 2009.

"The fact that there's a theme park has no effect on my life," Arthur Levine says.

Don't get him wrong: The veteran children's book editor -- who has his own imprint at Scholastic and who, in 1997, famously took a flyer on the first book by a British unknown named Joanne Rowling -- is far from ungrateful for the ridiculously pervasive cultural phenomenon Harry Potter has become. "That's what you want for every great book," he says. "To have an audience and have people talking about it."

Still, when Pottermania threatened to overwhelm the work that sparked it, Levine did what he had to do.

As an editor, he defines his job as finding writers whose work he loves, helping them write the best books they can and publishing them well.

"At some point I needed to pay a little bit less attention to the phenomenon," he says. "I'm not responsible for the phenomenon.

"I'm responsible for the books."

* * *

Walk into Scholastic's Soho offices and you get a dose of Harry the Phenomenon right away. Above the first-floor security desk, a video loop trumpets the seventh and last Potter book with a series of heavy-breathing questions:

"WILL HOGWARTS REOPEN?"

"IS SNAPE GOOD OR EVIL?"

"WHO WILL LIVE, WHO WILL DIE?"


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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