January 28, 2023

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The book life of the Shonda Rhimes

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You may know Shonda Rhimes from her book Year of Yes, or you may know her from TV. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve almost certainly interacted in some way with their notable and prolific production over the last 20 years, most of which was made through their production company Shondaland with producing partner Betsy Beers. Not only did Shonda create, produce and screen Grey’s Anatomy, one of the most ubiquitous and successful hospital dramas (which shares its name with the book Grey’s Anatomy but is otherwise unrelated), she also created, produced and screened Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder, the Grey’s spin-off Private Practice and a small Netflix series called Bridgerton.

Let’s take a look at Shonda Rhimes’ book life. Shonda was born in Chicago on January 13, 1970, the youngest of six children. A lifelong storyteller, she studied English and Film at Dartmouth College, wrote fiction and for the college newspaper, and directed and acted in theater with the Black Underground Theater Association. After briefly working in advertising, Shonda moved to Los Angeles and attended USC, where she majored in screenwriting, graduating at the top of her class with an MFA and receiving the Gary Rosenberg Writing Fellowship.

Her earliest job in Hollywood was as research director for the 1995 documentary film Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream after Aaron tried to beat Babe Ruth’s record for home runs; Although the film isn’t based on a book, it’s safe to assume that was the research. In 1998 she made a short film, sold a screenplay and in 1999 was hired to write the biopic Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, based on the Earl Mills biography Dorothy Dandridge. After debuting on HBO, the film received multiple awards for Halle Berry, who starred as Dandridge.

In 2002, Shonda adopted her first daughter. She was hired to write 2004’s The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Wedding, an original sequel to the 2001 film based on the The Princess Diaries books by Meg Cabot. The following year, Grey’s Anatomy was picked up as a midseason replacement on ABC. The spin-off series Private Practice debuted two years later in 2007 with an abridged first season due to the WGA writers’ strike, among other things, for streaming residuals. She adopted a second daughter in 2012, and her third daughter was born through surrogacy in 2013. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person was released in 2016 and chronicles the year she said yes to opportunities instead of letting fear and preoccupation hold her back.

In 2017, Shonda joined the Planned Parenthood Board of Directors; co-founded Time’s Up to support victims of sexual harassment and followed the Me Too movement; produces Still Star-Crossed, based on the book Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub; and inked an exclusive overall deal with Netflix to develop multiple original series for the streaming giant. The following year, she had this to say about claims that TV writers were lured into streaming:

Why do reporters always say writers were “lured”? Like we’re kids following a trail of candy. I used my imagination to create a revenue stream of over $2B for a large corporation. I don’t follow candy trails. i am the candy

— Shonda Rhymes (@shondarhimes) December 20, 2018

Say it with me, my fellow creatives: I am the candy.

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But the Netflix deal is really where we see Shonda leaning into book stories. Bridgerton debuted in 2020 based on the novels by Julia Quinn: the first season is based on the first novel, The Duke and I, and the second season is based on the second novel, The Viscount Who Loved Me. The series takes the white historical romance novels and puts them envisions her as a diverse world in which the Queen of England is a black woman, as are several important families in the close-knit upper-class society. Season 2, in which eldest brother and titular Viscount Anthony romances sisters Kate and Edwina Sharma (rewritten to make the series Indian), had record-breaking viewership; A third and fourth season are under contract.

Between seasons of Bridgerton, Shonda produced the miniseries Inventing Anna, based on New York Magazine’s article about fake heiress Anna Delvey, “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York” by Jessica Pressler. Next up is an anthology series titled Notes on Love, which features stories of marriage from a variety of creators, including TV producer Norman Lear, songwriter Diane Warren, and writers Lindy West (Shrill, The Witches are Coming) and Jenny Han (The Summer I Turned Pretty, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) and comedian and Only Murders in the Building star Steve Martin, author of many books and plays including the memoir Born Standing Up and the novella Shopgirl.

In July 2021, Shonda’s Netflix deal was extended by five years, so we should have plenty of shows to look forward to, hopefully many of which will be literal.

Would you like to take a look at the book lives of other well-known people? Dive into the book life of Catherine O’Hara, the book life of Michelle Yeoh, and the book life of Lee Pace.