J. K. Rowling

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Writers and critics

J.K. Rowling
Born: July 31, 1965
Yate in South Gloucestershire, England
Occupation(s): Novelist
Genre(s): Fantasy
Debut work(s): Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Website: http://www.jkrowling.com

Joanne “Jo” Rowling, OBE (born July 31, 1965) is an English fiction writer who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling. Rowling is most famously known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, which has gained international attention, won multiple awards, and sold over 300 million copies worldwide. In February 2004, Forbes magazine estimated her fortune at £576 million (just over US$1 billion), making her the first person to become a US-dollar billionaire by writing books.

Early life

Joanne Rowling was born in Yate, South Gloucestershire, England on 31 July 1965, 12 miles northeast of Bristol. Her sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was almost two years old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four where she attended St Michael's Primary School, later moving to Tutshill, near Chepstow, South Wales at the age of nine. She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College. In December 1990, Rowling’s mother succumbed to a 10-year-long 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. Dad called me at seven o’clock the next morning and I just knew what had happened before he spoke. … I was alternately a wreck and then in total denial. … Barely a day goes by when I do not think of her. There would be so much to tell her, impossibly much.” Her mother’s passing contributed to her own fear of death and its theme in the Harry Potter series.

After studying French and Classics at the University of Exeter (she had previously applied to Oxford but was turned down), with a year of study in Paris, she moved to London to work as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. During this period, she had the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry while she was on a four-hour delayed-train trip between Manchester and London. When she had reached her destination, she began writing immediately.    

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, who was named after Rowling’s heroine, Jessica Mitford. They divorced in 1993 after a fight in which Jorge threw her out of the house.

In December 1994, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near Rowling’s sister in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Unemployed and living on state benefits, she completed her first novel. She did much of the work in the Elephant House café whenever she could get Jessica to fall asleep. There was a rumour that she wrote in local cafés to escape from her unheated flat, but in a 2001 BBC interview Rowling remarked, “I am not stupid enough to rent an unheated flat in Edinburgh in midwinter. It had heating.”

Harry Potter

Harry Potter books

In 1995, Rowling completed 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 handed to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected it. A year later she was finally given the greenlight (and a £1500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from the small publisher Bloomsbury. The decision to take Rowling on was apparently largely due to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of the company’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., who paid Rowling more than $100,000. 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 only one-thousand copies, five-hundred of which were distributed to libraries. Today, such copies are each valued at between £16,000 and £25,000. Five months later, it 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 Harry Potter 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 narrowly lost the Book of the Year prize to Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. That June, the Queen honoured Rowling by making her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

To date, six of the seven volumes of the Harry Potter series, one for each of Harry’s school years, have already been published and all have broken sales records. The last three volumes in the series have been the fastest-selling books in history, grossing more in their opening 24-hours than blockbuster films. Book six of her series earned The Guinness World Records Award for being the fastest selling book ever. The sixth book of the series sold more copies in 24-hours than The Da Vinci Code sold in a year. (The Da Vinci Code was the best-selling book of the previous year.)

Rowling is currently writing the seventh and final book of the series. Its title is currently unknown. On June 26, 2006, Rowling revealed that in the final book of the Harry Potter series at least two characters will die, one of whom may be Harry himself.  Authors Stephen King and John Irving asked Rowling not to kill off Harry in book seven during a press conference, but Rowling remained ambiguous regarding Harry’s fate.

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.

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 November 16, 2001 and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on November 15, 2002. Both were directed by Chris Columbus. The June 4, 2004 film version 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. A film of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is now in production, under British television director David Yates, and new screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, projected for release on July 13, 2007.

In contrast to the treatment of most authors by Hollywood studios, Warner Bros. took considerable notice of Rowling's desires and thoughts in their attempt to bring her books to the screen. One of her principal stipulations was the films be shot in Britain with an all-British cast, which has so far 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 says she has told him more about the later books than anybody else, but not everything. She has also said that she has told Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane certain secrets about their characters that have not yet been revealed. 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 on her website that she has no say in who directs the films. Rowling's first choice for the director of the first Harry Potter film had been Monty Python alumnus Terry Gilliam, being a fan of Gilliam's work. Warner Bros. studios wanted a more family friendly film, however, and eventually they settled for Chris Columbus.

After Harry Potter

Harry Potter has made Rowling a well known and a very successful author, but after Rowling finishes the final Harry Potter book, she plans to continue writing. Rowling declared, in a recent interview, that she will most likely not use a new pen name as the press would quickly discover her true identity.

In 2006, Rowling revealed that she had completed 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 suggested she might publish an "encyclopedia" of the Harry Potter world consisting of all her unpublished material and notes. Any profits from such a book would be given to charity.


In 2001, the UK fundraiser Comic Relief asked three bestselling British authors (Rowling, lifestyle guru Delia Smith and Bridget Jones creator Helen Fielding) to submit booklets related to their most famous works for publication. For every pound raised, a pound would go towards combatting 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) for the fund. The £10.8 million ($20 million) raised outside the UK has been channelled into a newly created International Fund for Children and Young People in Crisis. She has also personally given £22 million to Comic Relief.

Rowling has contributed money and support to many other charitable causes, especially research and treatment of multiple sclerosis, from which her mother died in 1990. This death heavily affected her writing, according to Rowling. In 2006, Rowling contributed a substantial sum toward the creation of a new Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University. For reasons unknown, Scotland, Rowling's country of adoption, has the highest rate of MS in the world.

In January 2006, Rowling went to Bucharest to raise funds for the Children's High Level Group, an organization devoted to enforcing the human rights of children, particularly in eastern Europe.

On August 1st & 2nd, 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 actors left uninsurable and unable to work, and the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières.

Her name

Rowling's full name is "Joanne Rowling", not, as is often assumed, "Joanne Kathleen Rowling". Before publishing her first volume, Bloomsbury feared that the target audience of young boys might be reluctant to buy books written by a female author. They requested that Rowling use two initials, rather than reveal her first name. As she had no middle name, she chose K from her grandmother's name Kathleen, as the second initial of her pseudonym. The name Kathleen has never been part of her legal name. She calls herself "Jo" and claims, "No one ever called me 'Joanne' when I was young, unless they were angry." Her surname is pronounced like "rolling" (IPA: /rəʊ.lɪŋ/), not a rhyme for "howling".

Current life and family

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 Morningside, Edinburgh, and a Georgian house in London, on a street where, according to The Guardian, the average price of a house is £4.27 million ($8 million), possibly including an underground swimming pool and 24-hour security.

On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Dr. Neil Murray, an anaesthetist, in a private ceremony at her home in Aberfeldy. Their son David Gordon Rowling Murray was born on March 3rd, 2003, shortly after Rowling began writing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling took a break from working on the novel to care for him in his early infancy. Rowling's youngest child, Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born in January of 2005.

In her honour

The asteroid (43844) Rowling was named in her honour in early 2006, and the newly-discovered Pachycephalosaurid dinosaur Dracorex hogwartsia, currently at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis, was named in honour of her world in May 2006. There is a housing development in Bristol, near to her childhood home called Rowling Gate.


Rowling made a guest appearance as herself on the American animated sitcom The Simpsons, in a special British-themed episode entitled The Regina Monologues. The amusing dialog consisted of a short conversation between Rowling and Lisa Simpson, who mispronounces Rowling's name:

Lisa: Look! It's J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter books! You've turned a generation of kids onto reading.
Rowling: Thank you, young Muggle.
Lisa: Can you tell me what happens at the end of the series?
Rowling: (sigh) He grows up and marries you.  (angrily) Is that what you want to hear?
Lisa: (dreamily) Yes!

Producer Russell T. Davies asked Rowling to pen an episode of the 2005 season of Doctor Who; Rowling was "amused by the suggestion, but simply [didn't] have the time".

In a July 2005 interview with the MuggleNet and Leaky Cauldron websites' managers, Rowling revealed that she is a great admirer of Aaron Sorkin's work on the American TV show The West Wing.

In 2002, Rowling appeared on the BBC documentary "The Importance of Being Morrissey".

Very recently, in November 2006, Rowling appeared on a tribute to the Royle Family sitcom on BBC one.


Rowling has been involved in several lawsuits over the Harry Potter series.

In the late 1990s Nancy Stouffer, an author of children's books published in the 1980s, began to charge publicly that Rowling's books were based on her books, including The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly. Stouffer sued Rowling and Scholastic, Inc. in U.S. District Court, also naming Time Warner as a party. Rowling, Scholastic and Warner Bros. sued Stouffer in New York, asking the court to judge that there was no infringement of Stouffer's trademarks or copyright. Rowling and her co-litigants argued that much of the evidence that Stouffer presented was fraudulent, and asked for sanctions and attorneys' fees as punishment. In September 2002 the court found in Rowling's favour, stating that Stouffer had lied to the court and falsified and forged documents to support her case. Stouffer was fined US $50,000 and ordered to pay part (but not all) of the plaintiffs' costs. In January 2004 it was reported that Stouffer's appeal against the judgment had been rejected.

In 2002, unauthorized, ghostwritten Chinese language "sequels" to the Harry Potter series, such as Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon, appeared for sale in the People's Republic of China. Rowling's lawyers successfully took legal action against the publishers, who were forced to pay damages. On 19 June 2003 Rowling and her publisher Scholastic announced that they would sue the New York Daily News for $100 million because the newspaper had printed information on her work Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix before the book's official release date. The paper had purchased the book from a health store whose owner received the novels wholesale and decided to place them in the window. The man claimed he was unaware he was supposed to wait until that Saturday. Also in 2003, courts in the Netherlands prevented the distribution of a Dutch translation of Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass, the first of Dmitry Yemets' popular Russian series about a female apprentice wizard, Tanya Grotter. Rowling and her publishers sued, arguing that the Grotter books violate copyright law. Yemets and his original Moscow-based publishers, Eksmo, argued that the books constitute a parody, permitted under copyright.

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