Passionate People: J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is the creator of the Harry Potter fantasy series, one of the most popular book and film franchises in history.

Synopsis

Born in Yate, England, on July 31, 1965, J.K. Rowling came from humble economic means before writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a children’s fantasy novel. The work was an international hit and Rowling wrote six more books in the series, which sold hundreds of millions of copies and was adapted into a blockbuster film franchise. In 2012, Rowling released the novel The Casual Vacancy.

Early Struggles

Joanne Rowling, best known as J.K. Rowling, was born on July 31, 1965, in Yate, England. She adopted her pen name, J.K., incorporating her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, for the latter initial (Rowling does not have a middle name).

As a single mother living in Edinburgh, Scotland, Rowling became an international literary sensation in 1999, when the first three installments of her Harry Potter children’s book series took over the top three slots of The New York Times best-seller list after achieving similar success in her native United Kingdom. The phenomenal response to Rowling’s books culminated in July 2000, when the fourth volume in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, became the fastest-selling book in history.

A graduate of Exeter University, Rowling moved to Portugal in 1990 to teach English. There, she met and married the Portuguese journalist Jorge Arantes. The couple’s daughter, Jessica, was born in 1993. After her marriage ended in divorce, Rowling moved to Edinburgh with her daughter to live near her younger sister, Di. While struggling to support Jessica and herself on welfare, Rowling worked on a book, the idea for which had reportedly occurred to her while she was traveling on a train from Manchester to London in 1990. After a number of rejections, she finally sold the book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (the word “Philosopher” was changed to “Sorcerer” for its publication in America), for the equivalent of about $4,000. The book, and its subseqent series, chronicled the life of Harry Potter, a young wizard, and his motley band of cohorts at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Fame and Fortune

By the summer of 2000, the first three Harry Potter books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s StoneHarry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban earned approximately $480 million in three years, with over 35 million copies in print in 35 languages. In July 2000, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire saw a first printing of 5.3 million copies and advance orders of over 1.8 million. After a postponed release date, the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, hit bookstores in June 2003. The sixth installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, sold 6.9 million copies in the United States in its first 24 hours, the biggest opening in publishing history. Prior to its July 2007 release, the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was the largest ever pre-ordered book at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, and at Amazon.com.

Rowling, now Britain’s 13th wealthiest woman—wealthier than even the Queen—does not plan to write any more books in the series, but has not entirely ruled out the possibility.

A film version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, directed by Chris Columbus and starring Daniel RadcliffeEmma Watson and Rupert Grint, was released in November 2001. In its opening weekend in the U.S., the film debuted on a record 8,200 screens and smashed the previous box-office record, earning an estimated $93.5 million ($20 million more than the previous recordholder, 1999’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park). It ended the year as the top-grossing movie of 2001. The second and third films in the series — Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) directed by Columbus and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) directed by Alfonso Cuarón — each enjoyed similar record-breaking box-office success. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell, was released in 2005. The fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates, was released in 2007, featuring a script by screenwriter Michael Goldenberg, who replaced Steve Kloves, writer of the first four films. The film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, directed by Yates, was released in July 2009, followed by the final film which was released in two installments — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) and Part 2 (2011), also directed by Yates.

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