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J.K. Rowling | Biography

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Writing and Politics

Joanne "Jo" Rowling was born in Yate, England, a town just outside Bristol, on July 31, 1965. The daughter of an aircraft engineer and a science technician, her early years were spent reading and dreaming of being a writer. She wrote her first story, "Rabbit," at age six, and she completed her first novel about the unfortunate owners of seven cursed diamonds at age 11.

Rowling attended Exeter University to study French and Classics, and she spent a year in Paris as part of her degree. After college, she worked for Amnesty International in London. Her work with the human rights organization gave her insight into the nature of totalitarian governments and the courage required to resist them.

Harry Potter

In 1990 Rowling was traveling on a train from Manchester to London when the idea for Harry Potter suddenly occurred to her. She describes the experience as the idea simply falling into her head. Not having a pen on hand, she was unable to write her initial ideas down. Instead, she used the four-hour trip to flesh out her initial inspiration in her imagination. She began committing those ideas to paper later that evening.

Rowling continued to add to her notes over the next few years even though life brought tragedy and struggle. Her mother died in 1990, and a short marriage to Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes went sour soon after the birth of the couple's daughter, Jessica. Taking baby Jessica with her to Edinburgh, Scotland, Rowling tried to make a fresh start. As a single mother living on public assistance, Rowling persisted in her writing. By 1995 she had completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

Publishers were not terribly excited about the book, and it took several tries to find one willing to print it. Bloomsbury put the book on shelves in June 1997, asking Rowling to choose a pen name that was not obviously feminine. Not having a middle name, she added the initial K after her grandmother Kathleen. The book appeared in the United States under the slightly altered title Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1998. The next six books of the series followed in quick succession, and their fame grew by leaps and bounds. By 2000 the first three books of the series had been translated into 35 languages and sold 35 million copies. The fourth installment sold nearly two million copies in preorders alone, and its first printing was over five million books. The final two books sold, respectively, 6.9 and 11 million copies on their release day. By 2008 Harry Potter books had been on various New York Times best-seller lists for nearly 10 consecutive years (December 1998 to April 2008). By the time the Harry Potter series and its film versions were complete, Rowling was one of the richest and most well-known women in the world. Amidst the whirlwind of writing and publication, Rowling also managed to carry on a personal life: she married Dr. Neil Murray in 2001, and the couple has two children, David and Mackenzie.

Benefits of Success

Despite her wealth and fame, Rowling has stayed true to her earliest passions and values. She published a novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy (2012), as well as three detective novels under the name Robert Galbraith: The Cuckoo's Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014), and Career of Evil (2015). She continued her work for human rights and dignity as a philanthropist through the Volant Charitable Trust, through her generous support for multiple sclerosis and cancer research, and through Lumos, her international children's charity.

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