|Born||31 July 1965
Yate, South Gloucestershire, England
|Debut works||Harry Potter and
the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)
|Influences||Jane Austen, Geoffrey Chaucer, Elizabeth Goudge, C. S. Lewis, Jessica Mitford, E. Nesbit, William Shakespeare, T. H. White|
Joanne “Jo” Murray, née Rowling OBE (born 31 July 1965), who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling, is an English writer and author of the Harry Potter fantasy series. The Potter books have gained worldwide attention, won multiple awards, and sold nearly 400 million books. The last four books have been consecutively the fastest-selling books in history, a record which the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, currently holds. The series, totalling 4,195 pages, has been translated into 65 languages.
The 2007 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling’s fortune at £545 million, ranking her as the 136th richest person and the thirteenth richest woman in Britain. Forbes has named Rowling the second-richest female entertainer in the world and ranked her as the forty-eighth most powerful celebrity of 2007.
Rowling has parlayed Harry Potter into a global brand worth an estimated $15 billion. She has also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning the book for the computer and the television. She has become a notable philanthropist, supporting such charities as Comic Relief, the Multiple Scle
Although she writes under the pen name “J. K. Rowling”, pronounced rolling (IPA: /ˈroʊlɪŋ/), she actually has no middle name making her full name simply “Joanne Rowling”. Before publishing her first book, London-based publisher, Bloomsbury feared that the target audience of young boys might be reluctant to buy books written by a female author. It requested that Rowling use two initials, rather than reveal her first name. As she had no middle name, she chose K. for Kathleen as the second initial of her pseudonym, from her paternal grandmother. The name Kathleen has never been part of her real name. Following her marriage, her legal name is Joanne Murray. She calls herself “Jo” and claims, “No one ever called me ‘Joanne’ when I was young, unless they were angry”.
Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling and Anne Rowling née Volant on 31 July 1965 at Yate, Gloucestershire, England, UK 10 miles (16.1 km) northeast of Bristol. Her sister Dianne (Di) was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four. She attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded almost 200 years ago by famed abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More. Her elderly headmaster at St. Michaels, Alfred Dunn, was claimed as the inspiration for the Harry Potter character Albus Dumbledore.
As a child, Rowling enjoyed writing fantasy stories, which she often read to her sister. “I can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it,” she recalls, “Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee”.
At the age of nine, Rowling moved to the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, South Wales. When she was a young teen, her great aunt, who Rowling said “taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind”, gave her a very old copy of Jessica Mitford‘s autobiography, Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling’s heroine, and Rowling subsequently read all of her books.
She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College. Rowling has said of her adolescence, “Hermione is loosely based on me. She’s a caricature of me when I was 11, which I’m not particularly proud of”. Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth owned a turquoise Ford Anglia, which she says inspired the one in her books. “Ron Weasley isn’t a living portrait of Sean, but he really is very Sean-ish.” Of her musical tastes of the time, she said “My favorite group in the world is The Smiths. And when I was going through a punky phase, it was The Clash“.
Rowling read for a BA in French and Classics at the University of Exeter, which she says was a “bit of a shock” as she “was expecting to be amongst lots of similar people–thinking radical thoughts.” Once she made friends with “some like-minded people” she says she began to enjoy herself. With a year of study in Paris, Rowling moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International.
In 1990, while she was on a four-hour-delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry “came fully formed” into her mind. “I really don’t know where the idea came from,” she told the Boston Globe, “It started with Harry, then all these characters and situations came flooding into my head.” When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. However, in December of that year, Rowling’s mother succumbed to a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis. Rowling commented, “I was writing Harry Potter at the moment my mother died. I had never told her about Harry Potter“.
Rowling then moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. While there, she married Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes on 16 October 1992. They had one child, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes, born 27 July 1993 in Portugal who was named after Jessica Mitford. They separated in November 1993.
In December 1994, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near her sister in Edinburgh, Scotland. Unemployed and living on state benefits, she completed her first novel. She did her work in numerous cafés (e.g. Nicolson’s Café and Elephant House Café), whenever she could get Jessica to fall asleep. Rowling denied the rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat in a 2001 BBC interview, in which she remarked, “I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter. It had heating.” Instead, as she stated on the American TV program, A&E Biography, one of the reasons she wrote in cafés was because taking her baby out for a walk around was the way to make her child fall asleep, and as soon as she was asleep, she would go into the nearest café and write.
Harry Potter books
In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter. Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evans, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agents agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher. The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript. A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a small British publishing house in London, England. The decision to publish Rowling’s book apparently owes considerably to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father, and immediately demanded the next. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books. Soon after, Rowling received an £8000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to enable her to continue writing. The following spring, an auction was held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel, and was won by Scholastic Inc., for $105,000. Rowling has said she “nearly died” when she heard the news.
In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print-run of one thousand copies, five hundred of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are valued between £16,000 and £25,000.
Five months later, the book won its first award, a Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. In February, the novel won the prestigious British Book Award for Children’s Book of the Year, and later, the Children’s Book Award. In October 1998, Scholastic published Philosopher’s Stone in the US under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: a change Rowling claims she now regrets and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time.
In December 1999, the third novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, won the Smarties Prize, making Rowling the first person to win the award three times running. She later withdrew the fourth Harry Potter novel from contention to allow other books a fair chance. In January 2000, Prisoner of Azkaban won the inaugural Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year award, though it lost the Book of the Year prize to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf.
The fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was released simultaneously in the UK and the US on 8 July 2000, and broke sales records in both countries. Some 372,775 copies of the book were sold in its first day in the UK, almost equalling the number Prisoner of Azkaban sold during its first year. In the US, the book sold 3 million copies in its first 48 hours, smashing all literary sales records. Rowling admitted that she had had a moment of crisis while writing the novel; “Halfway through writing Four, I realised there was a serious fault with the plot … I’ve had some of my blackest moments with this book … One chapter I rewrote 13 times, though no-one who has read it can spot which one or know the pain it caused me.”
There was a wait of three years between the release of the fifth Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This led to speculation that Rowling had developed writer’s block, speculations she fervently denied. Rowling later admitted that writing the book was a chore. “I think Phoenix could have been shorter,” she told Lev Grossman, “I knew that, and I ran out of time and energy toward the end.”
The sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released on July 16, 2005. It too broke all sales records, selling 9 million copies in its first 24 hours of release. While writing, she told a fan online, “Book six has been planned for years, but before I started writing seriously I spend two months re-visiting the plan and making absolutely sure I knew what I was doing.” She noted on her website that the opening chapter of book six, which features a conversation between the Minister for Magic and the British Prime Minister, had been intended as the first chapter for Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban.
The title of the seventh and final Harry Potter book was revealed 21 December 2006 to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. On 1 February 2007 Rowling wrote on a bust in her hotel room at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh that she had written the seventh book in that room on 11 January 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on 21 July 2007 (0:00 BST) and broke its predecessor’s record as the fastest-selling book of all time. It sold 11 million copies in the first day of release in the United Kingdom and United States. She has said that the last chapter of the book was written “in something like 1990”, as part of her earliest work on the entire series.
Harry Potter films
In October 1998, Warner Bros. purchased the film rights to the first two novels for a seven-figure sum. A film version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released on 16 November 2001 and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on 15 November 2002. Both were directed by Chris Columbus. The 4 June 2004 film of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was directed by yet another new director, Mike Newell. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on 11 July 2007. David Yates was the director, and Michael Goldenberg its screenwriter, having taken over the position from Steven Kloves. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is in pre-production, scheduled for release on 21 November 2008. David Yates will direct again, and Kloves will return to screenwrite it. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is expected to be released sometime in 2010.
In contrast to the treatment of most authors by Hollywood studios, Warner Bros took considerable notice of Rowling’s desires and thoughts, as she was able to secure it in the contract. One of her principal stipulations was the films be shot in Britain with an all-British cast, which has been adhered to strictly. In an unprecedented move, Rowling also demanded that Coca-Cola, the victor in the race to tie-in their products to the film series, donate $18 million to the American charity Reading is Fundamental, as well as a number of community charity programs.
The first four films were scripted by Steve Kloves; Rowling assisted him in the writing process, ensuring that his scripts did not contradict future books in the series. She has said that she told him more about the later books than anybody else (prior to their release), but not everything. She has also said that she told Alan Rickman (Snape) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) certain secrets about their characters before they were revealed in the books. She was also asked by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) if Harry died and Rowling answered him by saying, “You have a death scene”, thereby not explicitly answering the question. Steven Spielberg was approached to direct the first film, but dropped out. The press has repeatedly claimed that Rowling played a role in his departure, but Rowling stated that she has no say in who directs the films and would not have vetoed Spielberg if she had. Rowling’s first choice for the director had been Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, as she is a fan of his work. Warner Bros. wanted a more family friendly film, and eventually they settled on Chris Columbus.
After Harry Potter
Rowling has stated that she plans to continue writing after the publication of the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and that she will most likely not use a new pen name as the press would quickly discover her identity. In 2006, Rowling revealed that she had finished writing a few short stories and another children’s book (a “political fairy story”) about a monster, aimed at a younger audience than Harry Potter readers.
She is not planning to write an eighth Harry Potter book, but has said she will be writing an “encyclopedia” of Harry Potter’s wizarding world consisting of various unpublished material and notes. Any profits from such a book would be given to charity. During a news conference at Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre in 2007, Rowling, when asked how the encyclopedia was coming along, said, “It’s not coming along, and I haven’t started writing it. I never said it was the next thing I’d do.”
When asked on 6 July 2007 whether she would ever write an eighth Harry Potter novel Rowling confirmed that she only ever planned to write seven books in the series but also that she could not rule it out entirely. “Um, I think that Harry’s story comes to quite a clear end in Book Seven but I’ve always said that I wouldn’t say ‘never’. I can’t say I’ll never write another book about that world just because I think what do I know, in ten years’ time I might want to return to it but I think it’s unlikely.”
In July 2007, Rowling said that she wants to dedicate “lots” of her time to her family, but is currently “sort of writing two things”, one for children and the other for adults. She did not give any details about the two projects but did state that she was excited because the two book situation reminded her of writing the Philosopher’s Stone, explaining how she was then writing two books until Harry took over. She stated in October 2007 that her future work was unlikely to be in the fantasy genre, explaining, “I think probably I’ve done my fantasy….it would be incredibly difficult to go out and create another world that didn’t in some way overlap with Harry’s or maybe borrow a little too much from Harry.”
In November, 2007, Rowling said that she was working on another book; “A half-finished book for children that I think will probably be the next thing I publish.”
Harry Potter has sparked a number of legal disputes since its release. Rowling, her publishers and Time Warner, the owner of the rights to the Harry Potter films, have taken numerous legal actions to protect their copyright, and also have fielded accusations of copyright theft themselves. The worldwide popularity of the Harry Potter series has led to the appearance of a number of locally-produced, unauthorised sequels and other derivative works, sparking efforts to ban or contain them. While these legal proceedings have countered a number of cases of outright piracy, other attempts have targeted not-for-profit endeavours and have been criticised as a result as too draconian.
Another area of legal dispute involves a series of injunctions obtained by Rowling and her publishers to prohibit anyone from reading her books before their official release date. These injunctions have very sweeping powers and have occasionally drawn fire from civil liberties and free speech campaigners and sparked debates over the “right to read”. The powers afforded by these injunctions have even been used in subsequent cases not related to publishing.
In 2001, Rowling purchased a luxurious 19th century estate house, Killiechassie House, on the banks of the River Tay, near Aberfeldy, in Perth and Kinross, Scotland. Rowling also owns a home in Merchiston, Edinburgh, and a £4.5 million ($9 million) Georgian house in Kensington, West London, on a street with 24-hour security.
On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Neil Michael Murray (born 30 June 1971), an anaesthetist, in a private ceremony at her Aberfeldy home. This was a second marriage for both Rowling and Murray, as Murray had previously been married to Dr. Fiona Duncan in 1996. Murray and Duncan separated in 1999 and divorced in the summer of 2001. Rowling and Murray’s son David Gordon Rowling Murray was born on 24 March 2003. Shortly after Rowling began writing Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince she took a break from working on the novel to care for him in his early infancy. Rowling’s youngest child, daughter Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born 23 January 2005.
Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland. She once said, “I believe in God, not magic.” Early on she felt that if readers knew of her Christian beliefs, they would be able to “guess what is coming in the books.” Rowling has stated that she struggles with her own beliefs. In an interview with the Today Show in July 2007, she said, “…until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on…would give away a lot of what was coming. So … yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.”
Forbes has named Rowling as the first person to become a U.S.-dollar billionaire by writing books. When first listed as a billionaire by Forbes in 2004, Rowling disputed the calculations and said she has plenty of money, but was not a billionaire.
Relationship with the press
Rowling has had a difficult relationship with the press. She admits to being “thin-skinned” and dislikes the fickle nature of reporting. “They went in one day from saying, ‘She’s got writer’s block’ to saying, ‘She’s been self-indulgent'”, she told The Times in 2003, “And I thought, well, what a difference 24 hours makes.” However, Rowling disputes her reputation as a recluse who hates to be interviewed. In 2001, the Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint by Rowling over a series of unauthorised photographs of her with her daughter on the beach in Mauritius published in OK! Magazine. In 2007 Rowling lost a court fight to ban publication of a photograph of her young son. The photo was taken by a photographer who used a long-range lens which subsequently published in a Sunday Express article featuring Rowling’s family life and motherhood.
Rowling has said she particularly dislikes the British tabloid The Daily Mail, which made references to a stalker Rowling insists does not exist, and conducted interviews with her estranged ex-husband. As one journalist noted, “Harry’s Uncle Vernon is a grotesque philistine of violent tendencies and remarkably little brain. It is not difficult to guess which newspaper Rowling gives him to read [in Goblet of Fire].”
Some have speculated that Rowling’s fraught relationship with the press was the inspiration behind the character Rita Skeeter. However, Rowling noted in 2000 that the character actually predates her rise to fame: “People have asked me whether Rita Skeeter was invented [to reflect Harry Potter’s popularity], but in fact she was always planned.” “I tried to put Rita in Philosopher’s Stone– you know when Harry walks into the Leaky Cauldron for the first time and everyone says, “Mr Potter you’re back!”, I wanted to put a journalist in there. She wasn’t called Rita then but she was a woman. And then I thought, as I looked at the plot overall, I thought, that’s not really where she fits best, she fits best in Four when Harry’s supposed to come to terms with his fame.”
Rowling contributes substantially to charities that combat poverty and social inequality. She also gives to organizations that aid children, one parent families, and multiple sclerosis research. Rowling said, “I think you have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently.”
One Parent Families
According to The Guardian, Rowling is a close friend of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife, Sarah, with whom she collaborated on a book of children’s stories to aid the charity One Parent Families. Rowling, along with Nelson Mandela, Al Gore, and Alan Greenspan, wrote an introduction to a collection of Gordon Brown’s speeches, the proceeds of which are donated to the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory.
In 2001, the UK fundraiser Comic Relief asked three bestselling British authors – cookery writer and TV presenter Delia Smith, Bridget Jones creator Helen Fielding, and Rowling – to submit booklets related to their most famous works for publication. The proceeds go towards combating poverty and social inequality across the globe. Rowling’s two booklets, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, are ostensibly facsimiles of books found in the Hogwarts library, and are written under the names of their fictional authors, Newt Scamander and Kennilworthy Whisp. Since going on sale in March, 2001, the books have raised £15.7 million ($30 million US) for the fund. The £10.8 million ($20 million US) raised outside the UK has been channeled into a newly created International Fund for Children and Young People in Crisis.
Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland
Rowling has contributed money and support for research and treatment of multiple sclerosis, from which her mother died in 1990. Rowling said this death heavily affected her writing and that she introduced much more detail about Harry’s loss in the first book, because she knew about how it felt. In 2006, Rowling contributed a substantial sum toward the creation of a new Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University. For reasons unknown, Scotland has the highest rate of MS in the world.
Children’s High Level Group
The Children’s High Level Group is a charity founded in 2005 by Rowling and MEP Emma Nicholson. Its aim is to improve the lot of vulnurable children in eastern Europe. In January 2006, Rowling went to Bucharest to raise funds for the Group, to highlight the use of caged beds in children’s mental institutions. On November 1, 2007, to raise funds for the Group, Rowling announced the publication of a new book, The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The book, which was handwritten and hand-illustrated by Rowling herself, is a series of fairy tales referred to in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Only seven copies of the book will be published. Six she will give away, the seventh will be auctioned in December 2007. Reproduction of the book will be prohibited.
On 1 August and 2 August 2006 she read alongside Stephen King and John Irving at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Profits from the event were donated to the Haven Foundation, a charity that aids artists and performers left uninsurable and unable to work, and the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières. In May 2007, Rowling gave US$495,000 to a reward fund of over $4.5 million for the safe return of a young British girl, Madeleine McCann, who was kidnapped in Portugal.
- In June 2000, Queen Elizabeth II made Rowling an officer of the Order of the British Empire.
- In July 2000, the University of Exeter (of which she is a graduate) awarded her an honorary DLitt degree.
- In 2003, Rowling voiced a version of herself in an episode of The Simpsons entitled “The Regina Monologues“.
- In April 2006, the asteroid (43844) Rowling was named in her honour. The name was submitted to the International Astronomical Union by astronomer Dr. Mark Hammergren, who had been a fan of the Harry Potter series since 2004.
- In May 2006, the newly-discovered Pachycephalosaurid dinosaur Dracorex hogwartsia, currently at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, was named in honour of her world.
- In June 2006, the British public named Rowling “the greatest living British writer” in a poll by The Book Magazine. Rowling topped the poll, receiving nearly three times as many votes as the second-place author, fantasy writer Terry Pratchett.
- In July 2006 Rowling received a Doctor of Laws (LLD) honorary degree from University of Aberdeen for her “significant contribution to many charitable causes” and “her many contributions to society”.
- At the end of a Harry Potter Blue Peter Special (broadcast 20 July 2007), J.K. Rowling’s third appearance on the show, presenter Gethin Jones awarded her a Gold Blue Peter Badge.
- In October 2007, Rowling received a Pride of Britain award for her inspiration to single mothers and aspiring authors.
- Also in October 2007, Rowling received an award (the “Order of the Forest”) from Markets Initiative, a Canadian environmental organisation, for having Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows printed only on recycled paper.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (26 June 1997; titled Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2 July 1998)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (8 July 1999)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (8 July 2000)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (21 June 2003)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (16 July 2005)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (21 July 2007)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (supplementary book) (2001)
- Quidditch Through the Ages (supplementary book) (2001)
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard (never published, but one up for auction) (2007)