J.K. Rowling and David Foster Wallace haven't got much in common. Wallace wrote complex, challenging novels, topped off by the footnote-thick "Infinite Jest." Rowling created Harry Potter, the boy wizard star of mega-bestselling books for kids.
But Rowling is going DFW, it turns out. Her publisher, Little, Brown, announced today that it will publish "Very Good Lives," her 2008 commencement address at Harvard.
Wallace, too, gave a commencement speech that was published as a stand-alone book, as "This Is Water." Wallace gave Kenyon College's 2005 commencement speech, and the transcript both circulated on the Internet and was included in the 2006 edition of "Best American Non-Required Reading" before being published on its own in 2009. "This Is Water" still ranks among Amazon's bestsellers in its subcategories Philosophy - Consciousness and Thought and Philosophy - Ethics and Morality.
Perhaps that's where Rowling's book will eventually appear. The speech, according to her publisher, draws on her own post-graduate years and asks "How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?"
Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust adds, "I have heard and read many commencement speeches, none more moving and memorable than J.K. Rowling's. 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. What a powerful example she embodies, and what a remarkable gift her speech was, and is, for all of us privileged to hear it then—and to read it now."
Sales of Rowling's "Very Good Lives" will benefit scholarships at Harvard and Rowling's own charity. The book, which will be illustrated, will go on sale in April, just in time for graduation.