March 8 2018 10:26 AM

MSU alum pens advice book based on ‘Harry Potter’

When it comes to Harry Potter fandom, MSU alum Jill Kolongowski’s new book will put you in Hogwarts heaven. If there is such a place.

Her book, “Life Lessons Harry Potter Taught Me,” is a collection of essays combining literary criticism and a unique take on selfhelp and introspection.

“I grew up with Harry Potter. My sister and I read them together at the same time,” she said.

And they weren’t alone. More than 500 million Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide in more than 80 languages.

Kolongowski graduated from Michigan State University in 2009. Graduating in just four years, she worked with the true dedication of a Hufflepuff — the Hogwarts house Kolongowski aligns herself with.

Author J. K. Rowling wrote the breakthrough young adult series beginning in 1997 with “The Philosopher’s Stone” and ending with “The Deathly Hallows” in 2007.

Over 10 years, Rowling wrote seven books in the series, all of which received a blockbuster film adaptation. Spinoffs, which have continued to this day, include video games, the “Fantastic Beasts” prequels and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” a Broadway play premiering next week.

Unless the play goes on tour, Kolongowski said it is unlikely she will see it soon. She’s too far off in California, where she teaches writing at the College of San Mateo.

“I always said there were two things I would never do: live in California and teach, but life happens and I love it,” she said.

Although Kolongowski has written a Potter-associated book, she said she was never a typical fan.

“I never went to the midnight release parties. I didn’t want some jerk screaming out the ending,” she said.

Today, however, in contrast, she participates in a book club on Twitter.

“It’s really fun doing it,” she said. The one characteristic which makes the Potter series enduring for Kolongowski is that Harry is not your typical hero.

“He’s an unlikely hero, a hero by accident,” Kolongowski said.

“The anticipation of reading the next book in the series was also important,” she said.

Like a pilgrimage of sorts, Kolongowski rereads the series each year.

“It brings me a lot of joy,” she said. Kolongowski said her book extols topics like discovery, resisting cynicism and the magic of childhood. She also tackles weightier issues like sexism, racism, bigotry and power.

Kolongowski highlights the more positive themes found in the books, such as happiness, love, laughter and “standing up for what is right.”

The author said she always knew she wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until she discovered creative nonfiction in a class taught by MSU Professor Marcia Aldrich that she began to feel like one.

While in college, Kolongowski was the co-editor of the Red Cedar Review.

“It was there I learned about writing as a real thing; not a hobby. I didn’t feel like a student,” she said. “I believe the Harry Potter books shaped a world view of an entire generation.”

And if you doubt that Kolongowski is a Harry Potter nerd, her two Potter tattoos speak to her dedication.

The author said she is working on a book about human reaction to disasters, both perceived and real.

“We are fascinated by disasters. If we see the statement ‘shows graphic violence’ online we click on it,” she said.

Kolongowski said some disasters are personal. “Someone taking a parking spot can ruin your whole day,” she said.

However, she believes we may have gotten desensitized to disasters and that might not be a good thing.

“You might need to protect yourself,” she said.

Like almost every MSU alum, Kolongowski is “sad about MSU” for the recent revelations about the University’s alleged role in ignoring sexual abuse by a doctor employed by MSU.

“It was enabled on so many levels. I don’t want to even wear my Spartan gear,” she said.

In a small way, one of the essays, “Petrificus Totalus: On Bravery,” speaks to the MSU situation. In the essay, she is self-critical about a time when a female student of hers needed just a little help to get away from an overtalkative male. Kolongowski abrades herself for not stepping up.

She writes, “As both of their professors, I was in a position of power and I failed to intervene.”

She goes on to compare her personal situation to several situations in Rowling’s books where characters fail to conquer their fear. We can learn from that.

Book Signing Schuler Books

1982 W. Grand River Ave. Okemos March 15 7 p.m.

Book Club news

The City Pulse Book Club selection for April is “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954- 63,” by Taylor Branch. The book is the first of a three-part series on the Civil Rights Movement. The City Pulse Book Club is looking back on the tumultuous events of the year 1968, which is often referred to as the year that left an indelible mark on America’s psyche. In addition to discussing the book, club members will be asked to recall where they were and what their reactions were when on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

The club meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at Schuler Books & Music in Meridian Mall. Upcoming books include “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion (May) and “Bobby Kennedy” by Chris Matthews (June).