Authors Profiles

Author Profile: J.K. Rowling

A profile of author J. K. Rowling. (Also a feature of March 2011 Women’s History Month)

Author J.K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling is a British author who is known as the creator of the wildly successful Harry Potter series.  The Potter fantasy books were her first published series, and they have given her international attention, been turned into films, won many awards, and sold more than 400 million copies.

Joanne “Jo” Rowling was born on July 31, 1965 near Bristol, England.  She wrote stories as a child to share with her young sister. Rowling performed well in school, and has admitted that the character of Hermione is based on her experiences as head of the class in her senior year.  Rowling went on to study French and English at the University of Exeter, earning her degree in 1986.  She studied for a year in Paris, and then moved to London, employed as a bilingual secretary and research assistant for Amnesty International.

In 1990, Rowling was stuck on a train from Manchester to London for a four-hour delay.  While waiting there, the idea of a young orphaned boy learning of a hidden past and magical talents being offered a position in a school for wizards came to her.  She began to commit the idea to paper that very day, when she finally arrived at home.

That same year, Rowling’s mother passed away after a struggle with multiple sclerosis. It was this poignant, personal experience that brought a depth of emotion to the first book as Harry Potter learns about his parents and mourns their loss.

While working on this first novel, Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English.  While there, she met and married Jorge Arantes, and they had a daughter, Jessica, in July 1993.   The relationship did not succeed, and soon Rowling and her daughter moved to Edinburgh, Scotland.  She struggled both with being an unemployed single mother and then subsequent bouts of depression, but kept herself focused on creating the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter.

Rowling finished the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1995, and met an initial wave of disappointment when twelve different publishing houses rejected her ideas.  After a year, editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury publishing house in London gave Rowling an advance and approved her manuscript after his daughter enjoyed the first chapter of the book and demanded to read more.  Bloomsbury advised Rowling to move away from children’s literature, as there was no chance of financial success in that segment of literature.  They also encouraged her to publish her book using her initials, as they felt that a female author might turn away young male readers.  Her luck turned when the Scottish Arts Council awarded Rowling a grant for £8000 in 1997 to allow her to continue writing, and then the rights to publish her novel in the US was purchased by Scholastic Inc for $105,000.

Click here to read more about how to identify first edition, first printing copies of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The first Harry Potter book began winning awards in the United Kingdom in 1997, and it was published in the United States in October 1998 under the title of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Rowling has stated that she regrets the title change and would have fought if she had been in a better position at the time.

1st UK edition, 1st printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, offered by A & F McIlreavy Buderim Rare Books

Rowling planned on writing seven Harry Potter books, one for each year of Hogwarts education.  The second novel, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was published in 1998, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 1999, and then Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released simultaneously in the UK and the US in 2000.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a record-breaking book.  Over 372,000 copies were sold on it’s first day in the UK, and in the US, 3 million copies were sold in 48 hours, a number that broke all literary sales records.

Rowling followed these bestsellers with two short books from the “Hogwarts library,” Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The proceeds from the sales of these supplemental books went to the charity Comic Relief.

The fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was published in 2003.  In 2005, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince sold 6.9 million copies in the United States in its first 24 hours, breaking the records set by book four. The seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in July 2007, and again broke all previously set records.

Rowling received an Order of the British Empire medal of achievement from Queen Elizabeth in March 2001.  She married her second husband in 2001 as well, Dr. Neil Murray.  Rowling’s second child, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born in March 2003, and her third child, Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, was born in January 2005.

Joanne Rowling has used her wealth to benefit others.  In 2000, she established the Volant Charitable Trust, which spends over £5.1 million each year to fight poverty and to support organizations that aid single-parent families, as well as supporting further research into multiple sclerosis. In 2005, Rowling helped to found the Children’s High Level Group (now known as Lumos). Rowling has been quoted as saying, “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.”

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