J. K. Rowling, born in 1965, British author, who writes about the magical adventures of a boy wizard named Harry Potter. The Harry Potter books dominated bestseller lists in the late 1990s and early 2000s, attracting fans worldwide among children and adults alike.
ROWLING’S EARLY YEARS
Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born in Chipping Sodbury, a small town in southern England. Rowling knew she wanted to be a writer as early as age six, when she wrote her first story. She graduated from the University of Exeter in England and afterward worked in various jobs while attempting to write fiction for adults.
J. K. Rowling: British author J. K. Rowling signs one of her incredibly popular books about boy wizard Harry Potter. Rowling’s books sold millions of copies worldwide and dominated bestseller lists at the end of the 1990s and in the early 2000s.
Rowling moved to Portugal at age 26, where she taught English. While there, she married a Portuguese journalist, and they had a daughter in 1993. During this time she began writing a book about an orphaned boy who lives with his mean-spirited aunt and uncle and does not know that he is actually a wizard with magic powers.
By 1995 Rowling was divorced, and she moved to Edinburgh, Scotland. Unable to pay for childcare, Rowling went on public assistance and continued writing her book, often jotting down passages in cafés while her daughter slept at her side.
THE HARRY POTTER PHENOMENON
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe, left) and his friends Hermione (Emma Watson, center) and Ron (Rupert Grint, right) scream in terror in a scene from the motion picture Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001). The film, about the adventures of a boy wizard, is based on the highly popular series of children's books by British author J. K. Rowling.
Rowling’s finished manuscript was rejected by a number of publishers before its publication as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Britain in 1997. This tale of Harry Potter, who learns of his magic abilities at age 11 and then attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, appeared in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1998.
From the beginning Rowling planned the Harry Potter series as a seven-book sequence, one book for each year of Harry’s secondary school career at Hogwarts. The second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, was published in Britain in 1998 and a year later in the United States. A third volume, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, appeared in both countries in 1999. By then, the Harry Potter tale had been translated into nearly 30 languages.
A fourth volume, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, reached bestseller lists weeks before its publication in July 2000. A fifth volume, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, appeared in 2003. It broke publishing records by selling 5 million copies on June 21, the date of its publication. The previous Harry Potter book had set the earlier record in 2000, with 3 million copies sold upon publication.
The Harry Potter books combine two powerful genres—the school story and magical fantasy—but Rowling’s treatment of these is almost entirely original. She does not avoid serious issues, such as self-sacrifice and death, and the series has successfully crossed the boundary between adults’ and children’s books. Three of the books have been turned into popular motion pictures: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2006). The popularity of the movies has reinforced the Harry Potter publishing phenomenon.
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