'50 Shades' of Vancouver revealed

Author of hot trilogy chose school for its location, English studies

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoE.L. James, author of the "50 Shades of Grey" trilogy, visited WSU Vancouver in September and shared why she included the school in her best-selling books.

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A literary mystery has been solved: We now know why Anastasia Steele was a student at Washington State University Vancouver.

If you don't recognize the name Anastasia Steele, she's the fictional virgin whose "inner goddess" gets awakened by a kinky, wealthy Seattle businessman in "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first book in a trilogy that was the publishing phenomenon of the year.

In May, Brenda Alling, WSU Vancouver's director of marketing and communications, said she'd love to know why British author E.L. James chose to make Steele a VanCougar.

Alling got her answer when she met the author this fall, when James stopped by the Salmon Creek campus.

Alling said when she learned James, who lives in London, would be in Portland in late September for a book signing at Powell's, she extended an invitation via Facebook to the author to drop by for a tour.

After all, the inclusion in the book raised WSU Vancouver's profile, even if "get mentioned in best-selling mommy porn" wasn't in Alling's marketing plan.

The morning of Sept. 24, while people were lining up at Powell's in anticipation of James' 6 p.m. appearance, Alling got a call from the administration office.

James, her publicist and a bodyguard were in the lobby.

Alling said she grabbed Laura Evancich, a graphics designer/photographer, and they ran to the administration office.

"She looked like a regular gal," Alling said of James, named Publishing Person of the Year by Publishers Weekly. According to PW, the "Fifty Shades" trilogy has sold 35 million copies in the United States and 65 million copies worldwide.

While Vancouver gets mentioned at the start of "Fifty Shades," it does not have a starring role. The erotic acts in the S&M tale occur in Seattle, home to Christian Grey, who happens to be a WSU Vancouver benefactor scheduled to speak at graduation. Steele goes to Seattle to interview Grey for the student newspaper and moves to Seattle after graduation.

A "Fifty Shades of Grey" fan tour includes WSU Vancouver.

The author told Alling she did her research online, and she placed Steele at WSU Vancouver because of the school's English literary studies program. She looked at English offerings at other universities along Interstate 5, but felt the literary studies program best suited Steele.

In the book, Grey donates money to the school's agricultural programs, but those are at the main campus in Pullman.

Alling said during her visit James bought WSU Vancouver merchandise and stopped by the offices of the school newspaper, the VanCougar.

The other books in the trilogy are "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed." The books have been sold in more than three dozen countries, and the movie rights were purchased in March.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.