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UMFK professor participates in a Harry Potter symposium

November 4, 2005


University of Maine at Fort Kent professor Geraldine Cannon Becker recently participated in "The Witching Hour", a Harry Potter symposium held in Salem, Massachusetts.

The early October event was the second such symposium sponsored by the non-profit organization the HP Education Fanon. Appropriately, the conference was held in historic Salem, the only American locale mentioned in the famous Harry Potter book series.

Cannon Becker presented a writing workshop, entitled "Word Magic: Essential Elements for Crafting Poems or Spells," which was held in a Boys and Girls Club classroom on Friday, October 7 to a packed audience.

"I guess people were expecting to see me pull something out of my huge hat," Cannon Becker said with laughter. "But really, I gave the participants some basic ingredients for good writing. I shared a few tips on rhythm, rhyme and repetition, and gave them excellent resources to turn to for more detailed information."

"Practice is a necessity," Cannon Becker said, adding "as is practicing correctly. So, I suggested that those with great interest could take a course or work closely with a practitioner of the craft, a word smith, a poet, a grammar expert whatever the chosen label&someone in the know. As clichéd as it is now, knowledge is power and words are still magic. Literacy changes the world."

In addition to delivering her workshop, Cannon Becker sat in on several academic presentations, the most interesting one focused on harnessing the power of "Pottermania" in the classroom, which gets students more interested in reading using the Harry Potter series.

She also attended a special event, a keynote luncheon, featuring a presentation by Dr. John Cech, author of The Hero's Journey: Folklore and Beyond.

"Of all the conferences I have attended, this conference was the most entertaining," said Cannon Becker. "There were parades featuring none other than Tabitha from Bewitched and Chris Rankin, who played Percy Weasley in the Harry Potter movies. I even had the chance to ride an elevator with Rankin, who briefly chatted with me about Gryffindor, who admired her costume."

"Historic Salem has much to offer in and of itself, so we couldn't leave without taking a walking tour, taking pictures of the House of Seven Gables and Custom House, the three-masted Friendship and Derby Wharf, and of course visiting the Salem Witch Museum," added Cannon Becker.

The UMFK faculty member and her family, who went for the educational adventure, enjoyed all the shops and the little waysides, and felt as if they had stepped into another world.

"We were in costume most of the time. People kept stopping me to take pictures in front of the Hawthorne Hotel or posing with them on the streets of Salem. These people were complete strangers, and I was only dressed as a Hogwarts teacher, Professor McGonagal." Cannon Becker laughs, "I was too happy to oblige. It was a little sip of fame to make me thirsty."

"There's so much to see and do in Salem that we plan to go back next fall. They have live presentations going on where they reenact history. We sat in on a witch trial entitled, 'Cry Innocent: The People Versus Bridget Bishop'. "It was really an eye-opening experience for the children. They were able to see things they had only heard or read about and to see how words could be twisted, how stories could become lies, and how important it is to separate fear from faith. Faith should be healing," Cannon Becker said, "but as they say, things can go wicked wrong and as hard as it is to learn the lessons of our past, it can also be cleansing to remember not to forget."

Geraldine Cannon Becker earned a bachelor of arts in English/education (Teaching Certification) from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina and a master in fine art in creative writing-poetry from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

She has been the recipient of the John Ciardi Award, the Kenneth Patchen Award, and the Raymond L. Barnes Award for Excellence in Poetry at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

Her poetry has appeared in journals such as, Nebo, Riverwind, and the Pedestal Magazine online. Selected poems have appeared in Consequentiality, Vol. I an electronic publication produced by Expanding Human Consciousness, available on, and

With the help of students at UMFK, Cannon Becker is currently putting together an online journal, the Aroostook Review.