In a rare TV event, viewers were treated to an inside seat as two of the most influential people on the planet became instant best friends. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey traveled to Scotland to conduct an hour-long interview with the most successful author in history, the reclusive J.K. Rowling.
The similarities between Oprah and Rowling are striking. Both have "rags to riches" stories, rising from poverty to become two of 14 self-made billionaire women in the world. Both have built empires on their brands: Oprah, with her TV and radio shows, magazine and products and Rowling with the movies, theme park, and all manner of Harry Potter "stuff." Interestingly, Rowling does say "no" to ideas and specifically turned down a request from Michael Jackson to star in a musical version of Harry Potter.
The most important similarity to me as a writing coach is the profound impact both Oprah and Rowling have had on reading and literacy. Through her book clubs, Oprah has motivated millions of non-readers to love books. Dubbed "the Oprah effect," her book choices have had immediate effect, catapulting titles to bestsellers by increasing sales to 800,000 or more. Sporting many medals and awards for her contribution to literacy, Rowling has sold 400 million books, and Harry Potter has been translated into 69 languages and is read in 200 countries.
The two superstars shared some poignant thoughts: their enduring insecurity about money despite their enormous wealth. Remaining awestruck at her financial freedom -- Rowling still hesitates between purchasing two items rather than buying both. Both women express sadness to be at the end of this era of success. Oprah is in the last year of her show; Rowling has written the last of the Harry Potter series, maybe. Both are grateful to their fans, who stayed loyal for so many years. They share their excitement about the future, wherever their new journeys may take them. Both are resolved not to "run after the phenomenon" created by their successes, but to embrace their future endeavors as new stages in their lives. Oprah is creating her own network; Rowling begins a different phase in her writing career.
The reticent Rowling became so comfortable during the interview, she turned the tables, positing questions to Oprah and entreating her to answer her own questions. It's no wonder Oprah advertised the interview as one of the most fascinating she's ever conducted.
The personal impact of these women cannot be overstated. Deeply depressed when she was 25 years old, Rowling characterized her emotional state in the Dementors, "who feed on all human happiness and can consume a human soul." She explained how the "cold, hollowed-out feeling" of depression is different than sadness. Because of her daughter, Rowling sought help. The benefits of her failure was to strip away the "inessential" and free her to create. She could not go any lower--she was a survivor.
After the show aired, a viewer blogged at Oprah's site:
... I'm sitting here crying uncontrollably... At 41, I feel alone and abandoned; parents are deceased, divorced, no children and fair-weather friends. While the surface of my life looks great, behind closed doors things have crumbled in the last nine months and I have struggled with the best formula to dig myself out. ... I turn on the TV ... and I hear J.K. Rowling say, ´Failure meant the stripping away of the inessential.´ The light bulb went off and the tears starting flowing, that was it! ... I was chasing money and not my dream ... I have entered the first step in my rebirth, the acknowledgement! Thank you Oprah and JK, I am eternally grateful!
Regardless of their future endeavors, these inspirational game changers have left indelible imprints on the hearts and minds of people around the world.