The Washington Post’s Bob Thompson tracks down Arthur Levine, who is always more than happy to talk about when he scooped up the rights to HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE (later retitled SORCERER’S STONE) for low six figures after an auction. But the Scholastic editor, who has his own imprint at the company, tries not to let the Potter-as-cultural phenomenon affect his own life. 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.”
But back to that early auction. Levine was at the Bologna Book Fair and a Bloomsbury rep gave him an early galley of Rowling’s first book – not that they had to, because they didn’t own the rights, but the match was made. Levine read them on the plane home. When the book came up for auction, he kept bidding until, at $105,000, his last competitor dropped out. “I would have been willing to go further than that if I had to,” he says. “I remember loving the humor, thinking she is so funny,” Levine continues, “and thinking that here’s a rare range of talents in a writer: somebody who can engage me emotionally and yet who can make me laugh. And whose plot is really driving me forward.”
So what’s it like to be Arthur Levine at this climactic Harry moment, with the last book in the series so close to publication and his job finally done, wonders Thompson? “I feel very, very proud of J.K. Rowling and what she’s accomplished,” Levine says. “I feel really proud to be associated with a group of such strong books that have brought so many people pleasure.” He hopes and expects to edit Rowling again.