When I walked into the lobby and saw house elves, my interest was piqued, but it wasn't until I saw wands and potions for sale and Snape looming that I truly felt at home. No, this wasn't Hogwarts, this was LeakyCon. Recently I had the pleasure of attending this Harry Potter conference named for the series' fictional bar the Leaky Cauldron. Hosted this year at the Hilton Chicago, LeakyCon is an homage to everything Potter and even encompasses the broader YA, fantasy, and sci-fi genres. The conference had its largest showing yet in its third year with about 4,000 participants made up mostly of pre-teen and teen fans. Costumes, hair dye, and general flamboyance are the norm at LeakyCon, which promises programming stretching from panels and discussions to musical events and pajama parties. Having read, seen, and lived the Potter phenomenon is insufficient at an event where terms like "Team Starkid" and "Nerdfighter" are enough to make even a Hogwarts educated man like myself feel like a Muggle.
Upon arriving at LeakyCon, my first stop was a panel called "Girl Books and Boy Books" offered through the LeakyCon Literature Track. Founded by YA author and Potter fan Maureen Johnson for participants who want a more literary focused experience, the Lit Track offers discussion on numerous topics from "How NOT to write a book" to "Help! My Boyfriend is a Vampire." Johnson recruited a slew of YA/fantasy authors to aid in the Lit Track effort. "Girl Books and Boy Books" was paneled by such authors as John Green, Robin Wasserman, and Lev Grossman who along with moderator Johnson feverishly discussed 1) The common belief in elementary teaching circles that boys do not read, and 2) Why girls are encouraged to read "boy books" but boys are often forbidden to read a book considered to be "girly." That this topic even exists seemed to disgust the panel who collectively felt that children should be able to read whatever they please regardless of their gender. As a male blogger who has recently recommended novels by female authors with female protagonists (Hunger Games and Night Circus) I wholeheartedly agree.
My next stop was the vendor room, where boutique shops and non-profits gather in droves to pedal their goods and their messages to the Potter-ites. Geekbadge offered HP themed magnets and buttons while the Deathly Hallows Shop sold custom souvenirs with the hallows insignia. But these tchotchkes were far less popular than the more magical items like authentic wooden wands, polyjuice potion, and phoenix feather. Delving deeper into the room I found numerous non-profits, the Dumbledore of which is the Harry Potter Alliance, a group that commits itself to "fighting the dark arts in the real world by using parallels from Harry Potter." With such a broad mission the HP Alliance champions several causes in the interest of equality including immigration, the importance of voting, and the popular anti-bullying movement. But my favorite booth in the vendor room was that of the start-up Fandom Dating, which true to the name is a dating website for those looking to find true love in someone who shares their interest in the nerdy, magical, and occult. Needless to say I registered and plan to begin Beta testing the site shortly. I could have stayed in the vendor room forever but had to drag myself home, missing the Guinness book of world records' largest pajama party and a rock concert featuring Harry and the Potters and The Whomping Willows.
The following day I stopped briefly in a discussion that was meant to discuss the similarities and differences between Harry Potter and Star Wars. This ended up turning into a forum to discuss all fantasy, but was nonetheless entertaining. I was the oldest in the room by at least 10 years which should have, but did not, stop me from energetically participating in the debate. But the best event of the weekend was the LeakyCon lit reception where the few LeakyCon participants over the age of 18 were invited to mingle, drink, and in my case stalk the authors who were in attendance. Being one of the few 'adults' at the party I managed to corner Lev Grossman, author of popular The Magicians series, who declined an Oy! interview but obliged to chatting over a Butterbeer.
After inviting myself to dinner with the authors and being respectfully declined I trudged home sad that the weekend was over but thrilled at having experienced such a unique event. LeakyCon is a place where children and adults can celebrate their love of Harry Potter, but more importantly it has become a comfortable forum for children/teens/adults to feel included in a world where they are often considered outsiders. Next year LeakyCon will have two venues, one in Portland and the other in London. The LeakyCon website proudly proclaims why two events per year are necessary, "LeakyCon creates space where you can be geeky/fannish/nerdy, free of the fear of being shunned or misunderstood." LeakyCon certainly has the right idea. We need more spaces like that. I'm sure J.K. Rowling would agree.