Biography of J.K. Rowling

Read about the life and work of J.K. Rowling, the author of the popular Harry Potter series.
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Updated: June 9, 2019
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Biography of J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter series of books, was born in Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol, in southwest England. Her birthday, as true Harry Potter fans know, is July 31, the same as her famous boy-wizard hero.

The family, including her parents and younger sister Di, lived in Yate and then Winterbourne, also near Bristol. Her father worked on airplane engines for Rolls Royce. When Joanne was nine, the Rowlings moved to Tutshill, near Chepstow, England, close to the border of Wales.

Joanne—called Jo by her family and friends—did well in school, and in her senior year was the top girl in her class. In fact, Rowling has said that as a child she resembled Hermione Granger, Harry's obsessively studious friend, whom she modeled after herself. Although, Rowling notes, "I was neither as clever or as annoying (I hope!)."

At school, Rowling's favorite subjects were English and foreign languages. She particularly enjoyed reading books such as Manxmouse by Paul Gallico, about a creature with a mouse's body, rabbit's ears, and monkey's paws, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and other books in C. S. Lewis's Narnia series.

After graduating from public school with top honors in English, French, and German, Rowling went on to study French at the University of Exeter. She earned her degree in 1986 and over the next several years held a variety of secretarial jobs, including one at a publishing firm, where she had to send out rejection letters to prospective authors.

What she really wanted to do, however, was write. Rowling wrote her first story, Rabbit, about a rabbit with measles, at age five or six. Later, she tried her hand at writing novels, for adults. But she never finished writing any novel before she wrote the Harry Potter books.

Harry Potter Is Born

Rowling started writing the first Harry Potter book in 1990. The idea for Harry—a lonely, downtrodden 11-year-old orphan who learns he is actually a wizard when he is magically invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry—came to Rowling while she was stuck on a delayed train between Manchester and London. Although she left England a short time later to teach English in Portugal, Rowling continued to flesh out Harry's story.

Rowling returned to Britain in 1993, settling in Edinburgh, Scotland, to be near her sister. Divorced after a brief marriage in Portugal and now with a baby, she suffered through a period of poverty and depression while she struggled to earn a living and take care of her daughter, Jessica. It was during this difficult time that she finally completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which was renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the U.S. edition. When her publisher suggested she add a middle initial to her name, she chose that of her grandmother, Kathleen.

Following its publication in Britain in June 1997, the book quickly became a hit with children and adults alike and won numerous awards, including the British Book Awards' Children's Book of the Year. Rowling always envisioned the book as part of a seven-volume series—one book for every year that Harry spends at Hogwarts—and a new Harry Potter book appeared every year for the next three years. These were Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000). These were followed by two short books from Harry Potter's world, Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001). The profits from those two went to a British charity, Comic Relief.

Rowling's road to fame and fortune may have been a bit rocky at times, but her success has been sure. In 2000, the 35-year-old author became the highest-earning woman in Britain, netting more than £20.5 million (about $30 million) over the previous year. She received an OBE (Order of the British Empire), a medal of achievement awarded by the queen, in March 2001. At the end of that same year, she married her second husband, Dr. Neil Murray. On March 23, 2003, Rowling's second child, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born. She gave birth to a baby girl, Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray, on January 25, 2005.

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