J.K. Rowling, or Joanne Rowling, is the author of the Harry Potter series and one of the richest, most successful women in the world. Her books have been especially influential on the young Generation Y that grew up reading her series and came-of-age along with the young heroes of the story. Not only Gen Y, but generations young and old all around the world have been touched by these tales of epic heroism and magical wonder. Along with her series, Rowling’s personal rags-to-riches story has inspired many to believe in following their dreams, making her an icon the world over.
J.K. Rowling was born on July 31, 1965, in a small town English town called Yate, 12 miles northeast of Bristol. At the age of four, her family moved to Winterbourne, where Rowling and her younger sister, Dianne, attended St. Michael’s Primary School. At secondary school, Rowling was made Head Girl and enjoyed reading and writing. It was during these formative years in her early to late teens that she met many of the friends that inspired the main characters her books. From early childhood onward, Rowling wrote many fantasy stories and read them to her sister. However, Rowling’s parents encouraged her to view story making as a fun hobby rather than a viable course of study.
In 1982, she attended college at University of Exeter for Foreign Language studies, during which time she claims to have done no work and instead, spent time reading Dickens and Tolkien and scribbling stories at the local cafes and pubs. However, professors claim that Rowling was a competent, bright student. In 1986, Rowling moved to London and worked for Amnesty International as a bilingual secretary. It was an experience that greatly impacted her and can be seen in the dark themes of human rights violations and political injustice in her books.
Shortly thereafter, she moved with her boyfriend to Manchester. It was on the four-hour train trip from Manchester to London that the idea for the Harry Potter series “came fully formed” into her mind and that evening she began to write the first installment of the series. A couple months into her starting the book, Rowling’s mother died after a ten-year long battle with multiple sclerosis. Rowling claims that the event made her sympathize with Harry as an orphan and that she added darker, more realistic emotions about death throughout the series as she dealt with her own mother’s passing.
While continuing to write her first book, J.K. Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English in the evenings and write her novel in the daytime. On October 16, 1992, she married a Portuguese journalist and had a child together, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes, on July 27, 1993. After a tumultuous relationship, rumored to be physically abusive, Rowling filed for divorce 13 months after her marriage and moved to Edinburgh to live near her sister. This was a very dark period in Rowling’s life, where she claims felt like a complete failure. She was living off of welfare and could barely support herself and her young child. She also suffered from clinical depression and often had suicidal thoughts. However, it was during this time that she truly devoted herself to her novel, a devotion that she was only able to realize “because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.” (J.K. Rowling, Harvard Commencement Speech, 2008).
In 1995, Rowling finished the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The manuscript was picked up by Bloomsbury publishing house in London. Allegedly, they chose to pick-up the book after the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomberg’s chairman read the first chapter and demanded to read the next immediately. In 1997, the first 1,000 copies of the book were printed. The book was awarded the Smarties Book Prize and won the prestigious British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year. In 1998, the book was picked up by Scholastic and began circulation in the United States. With the money from these successes, Rowling was able to move out of her apartment and get a nice home in Edinburgh.
The next two installments of the book series, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban, both won the Smarties Award and showed increased sales. However, it was not until the fourth book, Goblet of Fire that sales records in the United States and the UK began to skyrocket. Within the first 48 hours in the US, the book sold three million copies, historically breaking all literary sales records by a huge margin. Subsequently, the rest of the series only grew in popularity and continued to break sales records. The sixth book of the series sold nine million copies in the first 24 hours and the final book , finished on January 11, 2007, sold eleven million copies on the first day.
Since then, the Harry Potter global brand has grown to be worth more than $15 billion. It has been turned into eight feature length films and a Universal Studio theme park. At one point, Rowling was marked as one of a handful of top British billionaires. However, she has since donated vast amounts of her money to various philanthropic causes and is now only in the top 1,000 richest people in Britain. (Still, not bad considering her humble beginnings.) She remarried in 2001 and had two more children. She lives quietly with her family, and continues to write.