J.K. Rowling's Harvard commencement speech will become a book

Rowling's 2008 speech will be adapted as a book titled 'Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination.'

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Prince Karim Aga Khan (l.) applauds as fellow honorary degree recipient British author J.K. Rowling (r.) stands to receive her honorary Doctor of Letters degree during the 357th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in 2008.

Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling’s 2008 commencement speech that she delivered at Harvard University is being preserved for posterity. 

Publisher Little, Brown will release the speech, titled “Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” according to USA Today. Illustrator Joel Holland will collaborate with the publisher on the book.

The YouTube video of Rowling’s speech uploaded by Harvard Magazine currently has more than a million views.

“Lives” will be released this April. 

“I have heard and read many commencement speeches, none more moving and memorable than J.K. Rowling's," Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said, according to USA Today. "Years after her visit to Harvard, people still talk about it and still find inspiration in her singular evocation of the idea that living a meaningful life so often means daring to risk failure.”

One of the most famous commencement speeches to be turned into a book is David Foster Wallace’s work “This Is Water,” based on his 2005 Kenyon College speech. More recent famous speeches adapted into books include “You’re Not Special” by David McCullough Jr., delivered at a Wellesley High School graduation, and “Congratulations, By the Way,” based on a Syracuse University address by George Saunders.

Few commencement addresses in recent decades, however, have had the enduring appeal of Wallace's. Monitor critic Elizabeth Toohey reviewed "Congratulations, By the Way," but found herself returning to Wallace’s book for inspiration. 

“The strength of [Wallace’s] writing lies in its honesty – its addressing and even redeeming ‘large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches’ like traffic and grocery stores,” she wrote. “His call to decenter the self, to make empathetic leaps that transform teeth-grinding moments into sacred ones, is unsentimental yet moving.”

It will be interesting to see how Rowling's speech-turned-book stacks up in the years to come.

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