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J. K. Rowling

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Picture of J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

Author J.K. Rowling participates in a news conference for 'An Evening With Harry, Carrie and Garp,' a reading with Rowling, Stephen King, and John Irving, at Radio City Music Hall August 1, 2006 in New York City.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

Who Is J.K. Rowling?

J. K. Rowling is the author of the hugely popular Harry Potter books.

Dates: July 31, 1965 --

Also Known As: Joanne Rowling, Jo Rowling

J. K. Rowling's Childhood

J.K. Rowling was born at Yate General Hospital as Joanne Rowling (with no middle name) on July 31, 1965 in Gloucestershire, England. (Although Chipping Sodbury is often mentioned as her birthplace, her birth certificate says Yate.) Rowling's parents, Peter James Rowling and Anne Volant, met on a train on their way to join the British navy (the navy for Peter and the Women's Royal Naval Service for Anne). They married a year later, at age 19. At age 20, the young couple became new parents when Joanne Rowling arrived, followed by Joanne's sister, Diane "Di," 23 months later.

When Rowling was young, the family moved twice. At age four, Rowling and her family moved to Winterbourne. It was here that she met a brother and sister who lived in her neighborhood with the last name Potter. At age nine Rowling moved to Tutshill. The timing of the second move was clouded by the death of Rowling's favorite grandmother, Kathleen. Later, when Rowling was asked to use initials as a pseudonym for the Harry Potter books to attract more boy readers, Rowling chose "K" for Kathleen as her second initial to honor her grandmother.

At age 11, Rowling began attending the Wyedean School where she worked hard for her grades and was terrible at sports. Rowling says that the character Hermione Granger is loosely based on Rowling herself at this age.

At age 15, Rowling was devastated when given the news that her mother had become seriously ill with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease. Instead of ever entering remission, Rowling's mother grew increasingly sick.

Rowling Goes to College

Pressured by her parents to become a secretary, Rowling attended the University of Exeter beginning at age 18 (1983) and studied French. As part of her French program, she lived in Paris for a year.

After college, Rowling stayed in London and worked at several jobs, including at Amnesty International.

The Idea for Harry Potter

While on a train to London in 1990, having just spent the weekend apartment-hunting in Manchester, Rowling came up with the concept for Harry Potter. The idea, she says, "simply fell into my head." Pen-less at the time, Rowling spent the remainder of her train-ride dreaming about the story and began to write it down as soon as she arrived home.

Rowling continued to write snippets about Harry and Hogwarts, but wasn't done with the book when her mother died on December 30, 1990. Her mother's death hit Rowling hard. In an attempt to escape the sorrow, Rowling accepted a job teaching English in Portugal. Her mother's death translated into more realistic and complex feelings for Harry Potter about his parents' deaths.

Rowling Becomes a Wife and Mother

In Portugal, Rowling met Jorge Arantes and the two married on October 16, 1992. Although the marriage proved a bad one, the couple had one child together, Jessica (born July 1993). After getting divorced on November 30, 1993, Rowling and her daughter moved to Edinburgh to be near Rowling's sister, Di, at the end of 1994.

The First Harry Potter Book

Before starting another full-time job, Rowling was determined to finish her Harry Potter manuscript. Once she had completed it, she typed it up and sent it to several literary agents. After acquiring an agent, the agent shopped around for a publisher. After a year of searching and a number of publishers turning it down, the agent finally found a publisher willing to print the book. Bloomsbury made an offer for the book in August 1996.

Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was the U.S. title) became hugely popular, attracting an audience of young boys and girls as well as adults. With the public demanding more, Rowling quickly got to work on the following six books, with the last one published in July 2007.

Hugely Popular

In 1998, Warner Bros. bought the film rights and since then extremely popular movies have been made of the books. From the books, the films, and the merchandise bearing Harry Potter images, Rowling has become one of the richest people in the world.

Rowling Marries Again

Between all of this writing and publicity, Rowling remarried on December 26, 2001 to Dr. Neil Murray. In addition to her daughter Jessica from her first marriage, Rowling has two additional children: David Gordon (born March 2003) and Mackenzie Jean (born January 2005).

The Harry Potter Books

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (June 26, 1997 in U.K.) (called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S., September 1998)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (July 2, 1998 in U.K.) (June 2, 1999 in U.S.)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (July 8, 1999 in U.K.) (September 8, 1999 in U.S.)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (July 8, 2000 in both U.K. and U.S.)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (June 21, 2003 in both U.K. and U.S.)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (July 16, 2005 in both U.K. and U.S.)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (July 21, 2007 in both U.K. and U.S.)
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