From Rags to Riches: The Magical Life of J.K. Rowling

Photography Debra Hurford Brown © J.K. Rowling 2018 (Source: https://www.jkrowling.com/about/)

AUTHOR

J.K. Rowling

Book Author, Screenwriter, Film Producer, Television Producer, Philanthropist

Joanne Rowling CH, OBE, HonFRSE, FRCPE, FRSL, best known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a highly successful British book author, screenwriter, film producer, television producer, and philanthropist. 

She is the author of the popular and critically acclaimed Harry Potter series. The Harry Potter series has won numerous awards and sold over 500 million copies, which makes it the best-selling book series in history. The first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, has sold over 120 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.

Life and Career

Joanne Rowling was born on July 31, 1965 in Yate, England, and grew up in Gloucestershire in England and in Chepstow, Gwent, in south-east Wales. After her publisher recommended that she use a gender-neutral pen name, Rowling decided to adopt the pen name J.K., incorporating her grandmother’s name, Kathleen for the latter initial.

A graduate of the University of Exeter, Rowling moved to London and worked in a series of jobs. The idea for the Harry Potter series reportedly occurred to her while sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London King’s Cross in 1990. Over the next five years, she began to outline all seven books of the series. She mostly wrote in longhand and progressively amassed several notes, many of which were written on odd scraps of paper. 

Taking her notes with her, she moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. She taught at night and continued writing in the day. There, she met and married the Portuguese journalist, Jorge Arantes with whom she has one daughter, Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes, who was born in 1993. She and her husband divorced shortly after the birth of their daughter, and Rowling moved back to Edinburgh with her daughter and a suitcase containing the first three chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Rowling trained as a teacher and started teaching in Edinburgh’s schools, but she continued to write every spare moment that she had. Finally, after she completed the manuscript, she submitted the first three chapters to several literary agents, one of whom wrote back asking to see the rest of the book. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997. 

Rowling later remarried. In 2001, she married Dr. Neil Murray in a private ceremony at her home in Scotland. They have two children together, David Gordon Rowling Murray and Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray. 

J.K. Rowling Net Worth and Charity Work

J.K. Rowling reportedly has a net worth of $1 billion. She is one of the wealthiest private citizens in the UK and is the richest author at the moment. She is also the first author in history to achieve a net worth of $1 billion. 

However, Rowling has reportedly lost her billionaire status due to her sizeable donations to charity. She supports numerous organizations and causes, mainly through her charitable trust, Volant. Rowling established Volant Charitable Trust in 2000 as a grant making trust to support Scottish projects, groups, and charities – both community and national-based – which benefit women, children, and young people at risk. She is also the founder and president of the international children’s charity, Lumos which is named after the light-giving spell in her Harry Potter books. 

She also supports other charities and organizations, including Multiple Sclerosis Society, Book Aid International, Children with AIDS, Dyslexia Action, Women’s Fund for Scotland, PEN and Heifer International – just to name a few.

J.K. Rowling Best-Selling Books: The Harry Potter Series

Featuring an imaginative storyline of wizards and witches, a magical school, and vivid descriptions of magical creatures, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was an instant success – appealing to both children (who were the target audience) and adults. Six titles followed in the Harry Potter series, each book achieving record-breaking success. 

  • Published in 1997, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sold over 120 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. In 1998, her first novel was published by Scholastic under a different title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – the word “Philosopher” in the book’s original title was changed to Sorcerer at the publisher’s request for its publication in the United States.
  • The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, came out in 1998.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hit the shelves in 1999. The summer after its release, the first three Harry Potter books had earned over $480 million in just three years – with over 35 million copies in print in 35 different languages! 
  • The extraordinary response to Rowling’s books became even more evident in 2000, when the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, became the fastest-selling book in 24 hours! The book had a first printing of 5.3 million copies, and over 1.8 million advance orders. 
  • After being postponed, the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, finally hit the shelves in 2003. 
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth book in the series, sold 9 million copies in the first 24 hours of its worldwide release. It was the biggest opening in publishing history. 
  • Prior to its 2007 release, the seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the largest ever pre-ordered book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders bookstores. It was a groundbreaking success, surpassing records set by previous Harry Potter books. Having 2.65 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million copies sold in the US in its first 24 hours, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows holds the Guinness World Record for most novels sold within 24 hours of its release. 

The Harry Potter series was a critical and commercial success, winning an unprecedented number of awards, including The British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, The Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, The Bookseller Association / The Bookseller Author of the Year, and The Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award – just to name a few. 

Movie and Play Adaptations

A movie version of her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was released by Warner Bros. in 2001. Following its massive success, six more movie adaptations were released, concluding with the release of the eighth movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, in 2011. Just like the book versions, the Harry Potter movies became some of the top-grossing movies across the world.

In addition to the Harry Potter series, Rowling wrote the companion volumes Quidditch Through the Ages (released in 2001, under the pseudonym of Kennilworthy Whisp); The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2008); and Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (released in 2001) which was adapted into a movie series in 2016-2018. 

Later, Rowling also co-wrote a story that became the basis for the British two-part play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The play premiered in 2016 and achieved critical and commercial success, winning a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards. A book version of the script was published in 2016. Two years later, the play transferred to Broadway and won six Tony Awards. 

Other Works

In 2012, Rowling published her first novel aimed at adults, The Casual Vacancy. It has been translated into 44 languages and was adapted for television by BBC in 2015.

Under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, Rowling also writes crime novels. It follows the cases of private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Four novels – The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, Career of Evil, and Lethal White – have been published in the series so far. The first three books have been adapted for television by BBC one, produced by Brontë Film and Television.

In 2015, Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech was published in book form and is entitled, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. This book offers personal advice, personal anecdotes, and J.K. Rowling quotes on how to embrace failure and how you can use your imagination to succeed. Proceeds from her book benefit Lumos, her non-profit children’s organization.

J.K. Rowling Awards

J.K. Rowling has received many honors and awards throughout her career, including:

  • Companion of Honour, for services to literature and philanthropy, 2017
  • PEN America Literary Service Award, 2016
  • Freedom of the City of London, 2012
  • Hans Christian Andersen Award, Denmark, 2010
  • Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur: France, 2009
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, British Book Awards, 2008
  • South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement, 2008
  • James Joyce Award, University College Dublin, 2008
  • The Edinburgh Award, 2008
  • Commencement Day Speaker, Harvard University, USA, 2008
  • Blue Peter Gold Badge, 2007
  • WH Smith Fiction Award, 2004
  • Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, Spain, 2003
  • Order of the British Empire (OBE), 2001
  • Children’s Book of the Year, British Book Awards, 1998 and 1999
  • Booksellers Association Author of the Year, 1998 and 1999

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