Homeless to Harvard: Liz Murray, Whose Life Story Was Made Into a Lifetime Movie, to Speak at Santa Rosa Event

Author and inspirational speaker Liz Murray has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in an Emmy-nominated Lifetime television film. She is the guest speaker at the upcoming Women in Conversation event.

Author and inspirational speaker Liz Murray will share her inspiring life story at The Press Democrat’s Women in Conversation event on May 2. (Courtesy of Liz Murray)

Author and inspirational speaker Liz Murray was raised in poverty in the Bronx, the daughter of drug addicted parents. It was a childhood marked by neglect, hunger and hardship. But there was also love.

“I grew up in a home filled with love. It just so happens that mom and dad were addicted to cocaine and heroin … We had drug addiction like a wrecking ball tearing through our family,” she explained in a video on her YouTube channel.

Murray’s home life became increasingly volatile. When she was 15, her mother died of AIDS-related complications. Soon thereafter, her father failed to pay rent and moved to a homeless shelter. Murray was left to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She spent her adolescence sleeping on trains, on friends’ floors, on park benches, in hallways.

“At some point I realized that, in fact, I was homeless,” she said.

Against all odds, Murray managed to turn her life around. Her mother’s death became a turning point, inspiring her to go to high school where she excelled, eventually earning her admission — and scholarships — to Harvard University.

“When I lost everything, I was invigorated in this way where I realized my life was actually just a blank slate,” she said. “In that space, which came to me in a really painful way, this freedom opened up to really just declare, ‘Well, what do I want my life to be about?’ And what occurred to me first was really education.”

On Thursday, May 2, Murray will share her inspiring life story at The Press Democrat’s Women in Conversation event at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Burbank Auditorium. (Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online.)

Murray first detailed her story in her 2010 memoir “Breaking Night,” which instantly landed on The New York Times Best Sellers List.

“‘Breaking Night’ reads more like an adventure story than an addiction-morality tale. It’s a white-knuckle account of survival, marked by desperation, brutality and fear, set in the wilds of the Bronx,” wrote Tara McKelvey in a New York Times book review.

Since the publication of “Breaking Night,” Murray has made numerous public appearances and interviews, including on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her life story was chronicled in the Emmy-nominated Lifetime television film “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story,” starring Thora Birch, and she has been a speaker at events alongside Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev and Dalai Lama, according to The Guardian.

The title of Murray’s memoir has a special meaning.

“‘Breaking Night’ is slang for staying up through the night until the sun rises, it’s when you see the first hints of sunlight coming through the sky,” she explained. “We saw the morning commuters on their way to work. We saw people on their way to school. We went to some diner and splashed water on our faces. And it was daylight.”

The 43-year-old author and mother of two is the co-founder of The Arthur Project, a youth mentoring organization, and continues to inspire others to rise above their circumstances by encouraging self-empowerment, education and resilience.

“What I’ve learned is that, actually, no one knows what’s possible until they do it,” she said. “And that’s what’s kind of cool about life, that’s what’s so beautiful — every single day is another chance.”

If you go

“Homeless to Harvard” featuring Liz Murray: An incredible true story of triumph against all odds.

When: 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, 2024. Doors open at 5 p.m.
Where: Santa Rosa Junior College Burbank Auditorium
Tickets and information: $40, socowomenevents.com