Friday, June 08, 2007

J. K. Rowling

Joanne "Jo" Rowling OBE (born 31 July 1965) is an English fiction writer who writes under the pen name J. K. Rowling.[2] Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, which has gained international attention, won multiple awards, and sold over 325 million copies worldwide.[3] In February 2004, Forbes magazine estimated her fortune at £576 million (just over US$1 billion and still is at the same spot in 2007), making her the first person to become a US-dollar billionaire by writing books.[4] In 2006, Forbes named her the second richest female entertainer in the world, behind talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Rowling's surname is pronounced "rolling" (IPA: /rəʊ.lɪŋ/). Her 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."

Early life:
Rowling was born at Yate, South Gloucestershire, England, 10 miles (16.1 km) northeast of Bristol on 31 July 1965. 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 where she attended St Michael's Primary School, later moving to Tutshill, near Chepstow, South Wales at the age of nine. As a child, Rowling enjoyed writing stories about fantasies, which she often read to her sister. She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College. Rowling was good with languages, but did not excel at sports and mathematics. There are numerous references to Welsh places, things, and people in Harry Potter, which could be attributed to her time in Chepstow.

After studying French and Classics at the University of Exeter, 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, while she was on a four-hour delayed-train trip between Manchester and London, she developed the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of wizardry. When she had reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began writing immediately.

In December 1990, Rowling’s mother succumbed to a 10-year-long battle with the condition 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, 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. Unemployed and living on state benefits, she completed her first novel. She did her work in numerous different cafés (e.g. Nicolson's Cafe and 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:

Main article: 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 green light (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, 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 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.

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, selling 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 has completed the seventh and final book of the series. Its title was revealed on 21 December 2006 to be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. On 1 February 2007 Rowling announced on her website that its release date was to be 21 July 2007. Rowling wrote on a bust in her hotel room at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh that she had completed the seventh book in that room (652) on 11 January 2007; this was confirmed to be authentic by Rowling's and the hotel's representatives. In February 2007, Neil Bayer, a lawyer with Rowling's literary agency, announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will not be released as an e-book. Rowling has not allowed the first six Potter stories to be released as e-books and has no plans to change that for the seventh and final work.

On 26 June 2006, Rowling revealed that in the final book of the Harry Potter series at least two characters will die. 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. 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".

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 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. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is in post-production and is scheduled to be released on 13 July 2007. David Yates is the film's director, and Michael Goldenberg is its screenwriter, having taken over the position from Steven Kloves. Half-Blood Prince is in pre-production, and is scheduled for release on 21 November 2008. David Yates will once again direct the film, and it has been confirmed that Kloves will return to screenwrite it. Nothing has been announced regarding the film version of the final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

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 (Snape) and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) 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.

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 Merchiston, 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), including an underground swimming pool and 24-hour security.

On 26 December 2001, Rowling married Neil Murray, an anaesthetist, in a private ceremony at her home in Aberfeldy. Their 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, Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, to whom she dedicated Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was born in January of 2005.

See also: Criticism over political values

Although Rowling guards her privacy closely, she has spoken about some of her political views and influences. Rowling says her heroine is life-long socialist Jessica Mitford, and claims to have read everything she has ever written. She remembers going to visit her great aunt Ivy in Somerset when she was 14, and being told about this 'amazing woman'. "And she said, 'You know what she did, Jo, she bought a camera on her father's account and then went travelling.'" This story evidently made quite an impression on a young Joanne. Later, she discovered that Mitford was also a civil-rights activist who had suffered more than her share of tragedy. "She had a total lack of self-pity. And she lost three children through war, which is the worst thing that could happen."

After university, Rowling worked for the human-rights organisation Amnesty International. She still knew she wanted to write, but this was the next best option - "a day job that I cared about". Rowling wrote some of Harry Potter on her lunch breaks. A connection between the "three unforgivable curses" (killing, torture, and slavery) and Amnesty International's mission has been suggested in an article by John Rose. Rowling maintains a link to AI on her very popular website.

Rowling wrote an introduction for a collection of speeches made by future Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Moving Britain Forward, praising his support for single mothers. According to Sean Smith, in J.K. Rowling, A Biography (pg 196), "It was widely reported that Gordon Brown asked Jo to endorse the Labour Party, but she has kept her own counsel on her political persuasions."

In an interview with Simon Hattenstone of the Guardian, Rowling asked if he remembered the speech John Major made about society's ills being down to single mothers. She had only recently returned to Britain and now every time she hears Major described as a decent man she blanches. She says people exploit her story, depending on which way the political wind is blowing. [6]

Charities and donations:

Comic Relief:
In 2001, the UK fundraiser Comic Relief asked three bestselling British authors, (Rowling, cookery writer and TV presenter 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.[49] Since going on sale in March, 2001, the books have raised £15.7 million (US$30 million) for the fund. The £10.8 million (US$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.

Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland:
Rowling has contributed money and support for 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.[55]

Other donations:
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 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 USD$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.

After Harry Potter:
After Rowling finishes the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 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 June 2000, Queen Elizabeth II honoured Rowling by making her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

In early 2006, the asteroid (43844) Rowling was named in her honour.

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.

There is a housing development in Bristol, near to her childhood home, called Rowling Gate.

Main article: Controversy over Harry Potter;

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series has faced a number of controversies. The books have been the subject of a number of legal proceedings, largely stemming either from claims by the religious right that the magic in the books promotes witchcraft among children, or from various conflicts over copyright and trademark infringements. The immense popularity and high market value of the books has led to Rowling, her publishers, and film distributor Warner Bros taking legal measures to protect their copyright, which has included banning the sale of Harry Potter imitations, targeting the owners of websites over the "Harry Potter" domain name, and suing author Nancy Stouffer for claiming Rowling had plagiarized her work.


  • 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 September 1999)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (8 July 2000)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001)
  • Quidditch Through the Ages (2001)
  • 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 (to be released 21 July 2007)

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