So in between reading applications I’ve been sitting in on CMS.790: Media Theories and Methods, the introductory course for the Comparative Media Studies graduate program. I really love the whole CMS / Media Lab side of MIT, and especially love their nexus, MIT’s Center for Civic Media, so I was super-excited with the opportunity to take CMS.790, which is sort of a broad overview of media studies at the graduate level.
Now, Flourish – as you will soon learn – is known around campus as a CMS alumna, MIT lecturer, and cofounder of what might be thought of as a fandom consulting company.
I know Flourish, however, because a little over a decade ago, in junior high, we were members of the same Harry Potter Yahoo! Group fan club, and helped her and others cofound what was, for a time, the largest Harry Potter fanfiction community on the Internet, the now-mostly-defunct FictionAlley.org (though thankfully Schnoogle is still up).
So everyone in the room is going around introducing themselves with their names and their fancy-sounding graduate research projects pitches. And then it comes to me, and I raise my hand, wave, and say:
“Hey Flourish! I’m Chris. I work over in admissions. A decade ago we worked on FictionAlley together. I was in the group that fled FanFiction.net in the Great Exodus, and was a bit character in the exodus’ autobiographic opus as ‘Chris the House Elf.’ ‘Sup.”
Everyone else just looked really confused but Flourish’s jaw dropped to the table. After a few seconds of shocked silence she raised her hands in the air (rushing past her turquoise hair) as she excitedly announced:
“Ooh!! Ooh!! It’s like the Internet has come to visit me!”
Which might be my alltime favorite way to have been greeted by anyone ever.
Anyway, after class, I asked Flourish if I could interview her for the blogs. While Flourish did not go to MIT as an undergraduate, she did come here for grad school, and now she teaches undergrads at MIT. I thought it would be really cool to ask someone who managed to turn her love of Harry Potter (and other things) into a career how she did what she did, and what advice she might have for other people who might want to do the same.
Who are you exactly?
I’m Flourish Klink. I’m a lecturer at MIT, and I’m the Chief Participation Officer for the Alchemists Transmedia Storytelling Co. I’m also a longtime Harry Potter fan, and the lead organizer for Ascendio 2012, a Harry Potter fan convention to be held in Florida in June.
What do you do at MIT?
Like I said above, I’m a lecturer — in the Comparative Media Studies department. That is, I teach classes like Introduction to Media Studies, Fans & Fan Culture, and Transmedia Storytelling.
How did you find MIT?
When did you figure out you could be a fan for a living?
These two questions are deeply intertwined! When I was a teenager, I was contacted by Henry Jenkins, who at the time was a professor at MIT. He wanted to interview me for his book Convergence Culture. That was the first time I ever thought of MIT as someplace other than just an engineering school. But as an undergrad, MIT wasn’t for me — my childhood best friend went off to MIT, but I decided I’d rather go to a small school. So I went to Reed College, where I definitely got a very traditional liberal arts education! There, even though I knew I could be a “fan for a living” by studying fans in academia, I thought that fandom was still too “unserious” for me. I toyed with being a Classics major and eventually ended up majoring in Religion. But even while I was studying Catholicism, I realized that the things that appealed most to me about Classics and Religion were the aspects of them that connected up with fandom! So I applied to grad school at MIT, to be Henry’s student in the Comparative Media Studies program. And that’s all she wrote!
If you could bring any Harry Potter character to life and be friends with them, who would it be and why?
I think a lot of my friends think it would be Hermione, but actually, no — I think she’d be very irritating and I’d want to meddle in her life and tell her that Ron’s just not good enough for her! I’d rather be friends with Tonks. She seems like so much fun. Plus, we could have contrasting hair colors!
How is MIT similar to and different from Hogwarts?
Let’s see. Like Hogwarts, MIT has miles and miles of twisty little passages that often seem like they lead different places on different days of the week! Also like Hogwarts, students actually get to do practical work with potentially dangerous substances, which sometimes looks like magic (“Any technology sufficiently advanced…”). There’s also a bit of healthy rivalry between different dorms, like between the Houses at Hogwarts — I knew that I had started to fit in at MIT when one of my students told me that my bright teal hair was “so east campus.” Unlike Hogwarts, though, MIT is completely full of students who are top notch at what they do. There is no Crabbe & Goyle at MIT. That can be really hard to realize for some students who have come from a high school where they were always A1 — you can be a supergenius and still be at the bottom of your class at MIT. It happens! But you shouldn’t let it freak you out: you will be just fine.
What is your favorite part about MIT?
Roof & tunnel hacking! I love exploring the strange places on campus, and it’s the one reason I wish I had done my undergrad here (even though really I know it was a good choice for me, personally, to go to Reed). Since I’m a lecturer now, I can’t really be a hacker — I can only admire what my students do.
What is something you always hope you keep “doing”, in your jobs and/or in your life?
Being honest with myself and others. One of the great things about academia is that you are removed from some of the constraints which can make it hard to speak your mind. I’m pretty devoted to being part of the commercial sector as well, advising the entertainment industry on fan culture and so on, but I never want to be in a situation where I’m twisting the truth or fudging data to ‘make a sale,’ as it were. MIT is a great place to have that kind of intellectual freedom, and being here has helped me understand how much I value that.