J. K. Rowling at Harvard

/ 8 June 2008

The Harry Potter books are some of my favorite books of all time. I have read and re-read them, and I’m sure will do so again in the future. But I have not paid much attention to their author, nor thought much about who she is or how she came to share her gifts. J. K. Rowling spoke this past week at Harvard’s Commencement, and now I know a little bit more about the extraordinary gifts she bears.

She spoke of failure, and of imagination. She talked about how imagination is a power that humans have to empathize around experiences we have never had. She talked about learning that while she was a very young woman, working for Amnesty International, and that one of the key things she learned there was that human empathy was a power that could lead to very real action to save lives. She quoted Plutarch: "what we achieve inwardly will change outer reality"; and Seneca: "As is a tale, so is life. Not how long it is, but how good it is, that matters."

Finally, she noted that: "We do not need magic to transform our world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better."

All three parts of her talk are up at YouTube, and well worth hearing. Here's a transcript if you can't do the video.