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J. K. Rowling

Rowling at the White House in 2010
Rowling at the White House in 2010
Born Joanne Rowling
(1965-07-31) 31 July 1965 (age 58)
Yate, Gloucestershire, England
Pen name
  • J. K. Rowling
  • Robert Galbraith
  • Author
  • philanthropist
Alma mater
Period 1997–present
  • Jorge Arantes
    (m. 1992; div. 1995)
  • Neil Murray
    (m. 2001)
Children 3


Joanne Rowling CH OBE FRSL ( "rolling"; born 31 July 1965), also known by her pen name J. K. Rowling, is a British author and philanthropist. She wrote Harry Potter, a seven-volume children's fantasy series published from 1997 to 2007. The series has sold over 600 million copies, been translated into 84 languages, and spawned a global media franchise including films and video games.

Early life

Platform 9 3-4 (King's Cross station, London, 2014)
Rowling's parents met on a train from King's Cross station; her portal to the magical world is "Platform 9+34" at King's Cross.

Joanne Rowling was born on 31 July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, to Anne (née Volant) and Peter ("Pete") James Rowling. They came from middle-class backgrounds; Pete was the son of a machine-tool setter who later opened a grocery shop. They left the navy life and sought a country home to raise the baby they were expecting, and married on 14 March 1965 when both were 19.

Joanne is two years older than her sister, Dianne. When Joanne was four, the family moved to Winterbourne, Gloucestershire. She began at St Michael's Church of England Primary School in Winterbourne when she was five. The Rowlings lived near a family called Potter – a name Joanne always liked. Anne loved to read and their homes were filled with books. Pete read The Wind in the Willows to his daughters, while Anne introduced them to the animals in Richard Scarry's books.

When Rowling was about nine, the family purchased the historic Church Cottage in Tutshill. In 1974, Rowling began attending the nearby Church of England School. In 1975, Rowling joined a Brownies pack. Its special events and parties, and the pack groups (Fairies, Pixies, Sprites, Elves, Gnomes and Imps) provided a magical world.

Secondary school and university

Church Cottage, Tutshill
Church Cottage, Rowling's childhood home

Rowling's secondary school was Wyedean School and College, a state school she began attending at the age of eleven and where she was bullied. Rowling was inspired by her favourite teacher, Lucy Shepherd, who taught the importance of structure and precision in writing. Her teacher Dale Neuschwander was impressed by her imagination.

Anne Rowling was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 34 or 35 and Jo was 15. Rowling's home life was complicated by her mother's illness and a strained relationship with her father. Rowling later said "home was a difficult place to be", and that her teenage years were unhappy.

Living in a small town with pressures at home, Rowling became more interested in her school work. Steve Eddy, her first secondary school English teacher, remembers her as "not exceptional" but "one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English". Rowling took A-levels in English, French and German, achieving two As and a B and was named head girl at Wyedean. She applied to Oxford University in 1982 but was rejected. Biographers attribute her rejection to privilege, as she had attended a state school rather than a private one.

Rowling always wanted to be a writer, but chose to study French and the classics at the University of Exeter for practical reasons, influenced by her parents who thought job prospects would be better with evidence of bilingualism. She enjoyed herself after she met more people like her. She was an average student at Exeter, described by biographers as prioritising her social life over her studies, and lacking ambition and enthusiasm. Rowling recalls doing little work at university, preferring to read Dickens and Tolkien. She earned a BA in French from Exeter, graduating in 1987 after a year of study in Paris.


After university, Rowling moved to a flat in Clapham Junction with friends, and took a course to become a bilingual secretary. While she was working temp jobs in London, Amnesty International hired her to document human rights issues in French-speaking Africa. She began writing adult novels while working as a temp, although they were never published.

In mid-1990, she was on a train delayed by four hours from Manchester to London, when the characters Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger came plainly into her mind. Having no pen or paper allowed her to fully explore the characters and their story in her imagination before she reached her flat and began to write.

Rowling moved to Manchester around November 1990. She described her time in Manchester, where she worked for the Chamber of Commerce and at Manchester University in temp jobs, as a "year of misery".

In November 1991, Rowling moved to Porto, Portugal, to teach night classes in English as a foreign language, writing during the day.

In 1993, Rowling returned to the UK. She was a single mother at that time. Seven years after graduating from university, she saw herself as a failure. Her marriage had failed, and she was jobless with a dependent child. She later described this as "liberating" her to focus on writing. She has said that "Jessica kept me going". Her old school friend, Sean Harris, lent her £600 ($900), which allowed her to move to a flat in Leith, where she finished Philosopher's Stone.

She was still working on the book but did not have enough money to live on. She worked as a secretary, making £15 ($22.50) per week, and lived on government benefits. However, she had enough time for writing. She often wrote in cafés, including Nicolson's, part-owned by her brother-in-law.

Still needing money and expecting to make a living by teaching, Rowling began a teacher training course in August 1995 at Moray House School of Education after completing her first novel. She earned her teaching certificate in July 1996 and began teaching at Leith Academy. Rowling later said that writing the first Harry Potter book had saved her life and that her concerns about "love, loss, separation, death ... are reflected in the first book".

The Harry Potter series

Rowling was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International in 1990 when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series while on a delayed train from Manchester to London. The seven-year period that followed saw the death of her mother, the birth of her first child, divorce from her first husband, and relative poverty until the first novel in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published in 1997. Six sequels followed, and by 2008, Forbes had named her the world's highest-paid author.

Rowling concluded the Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). The novels follow a boy called Harry Potter as he attends Hogwarts, a school for wizards, and battles Lord Voldemort. Death and the divide between good and evil are the central themes of the series. Its influences include Bildungsroman (the coming-of-age genre), school stories, fairy tales, and Christian allegory. The series revived fantasy as a genre in the children's market, spawned a host of imitators, and inspired an active fandom. Critical reception has been more mixed. Many reviewers see Rowling's writing as conventional; some regard her portrayal of gender and social division as regressive. There were also religious debates over Harry Potter.

Rowling has won many accolades for her work. She has received an OBE and made a Companion of Honour for services to literature and philanthropy. Harry Potter brought her wealth and recognition, which she has used to advance philanthropic endeavours and political causes.


Staff at Bloomsbury Publishing asked that she use two initials rather than her full name, anticipating that young boys – their target audience – would not want to read a book written by a woman. She chose K (for Kathleen) as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother, and because of the ease of pronunciation of two consecutive letters. Following her 2001 remarriage, she has sometimes used the name Joanne Murray when conducting personal business.

Publishing Harry Potter

Potter queue
A California bookshop five minutes before Deathly Hallows was released

Rowling completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in June 1995. The initial draft included an illustration of Harry by a fireplace, showing a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Rowling was awarded a writer's grant by the Scottish Arts Council to support her childcare costs and finances before Philosopher's Stone's publication, and to aid in writing the sequel, Chamber of Secrets. On 26 June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher's Stone with an initial print run of 5,650 copies. Before Chamber of Secrets was published, Rowling had received £2,800 ($4,200) in royalties.

Philosopher's Stone introduces Harry Potter. Harry is a wizard who lives with his non-magical relatives until his eleventh birthday, when he is invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Rowling wrote six sequels, which follow Harry's adventures at Hogwarts with friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley and his attempts to defeat Lord Voldemort, who killed Harry's parents when he was a child. In Philosopher's Stone, Harry foils Voldemort's plan to acquire an elixir of life; in Deathly Hallows, the final book, he kills Voldemort.

Rowling received the news that the US rights were being auctioned at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. To her surprise and delight, Scholastic Corporation bought the rights for $105,000. She bought a flat in Edinburgh with the money from the sale. Arthur A. Levine, head of the imprint at Scholastic, pushed for a name change. He wanted Harry Potter and the School of Magic; as a compromise Rowling suggested Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Sorcerer's Stone was released in the United States in September 1998. It was not widely reviewed, but the reviews it received were generally positive. Sorcerer's Stone became a New York Times bestseller by December.

The next three books in the series were released in quick succession between 1998 and 2000: 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), each selling millions of copies. When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had not appeared by 2002, rumours circulated that Rowling was suffering writer's block. It was published in June 2003, selling millions of copies on the first day. Two years later, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released in July, again selling millions of copies on the first day. The series ended with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, published in July 2007.


RH116 "Harry Potter Film 2011" - Flickr - D464-Darren Hall
Bus promoting Deathly Hallows – Part 2, 2011

In 1999, Warner Bros. purchased film rights to the first two Harry Potter novels for a reported $1 million. Rowling accepted the offer with the provision that the studio only produce Harry Potter films based on books she authored, while retaining the right to final script approval, and some control over merchandising. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, an adaptation of the first Harry Potter book, was released in November 2001. Steve Kloves wrote the screenplays for all but the fifth film, with Rowling's assistance, ensuring that his scripts kept to the plots of the novels. The film series concluded with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was adapted in two parts; part one was released on 19 November 2010, and part two followed on 15 July 2011.

Warner Bros. announced an expanded relationship with Rowling in 2013, including a planned series of films about her character Newt Scamander, fictitious author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The first film of five, a prequel to the Harry Potter series, set roughly 70 years earlier, was released in November 2016. Rowling wrote the screenplay, which was released as a book. Crimes of Grindelwald was released in November 2018. Secrets of Dumbledore was released in April 2022.

Later Harry Potter works

Palace Theatre - May 2017 4
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre in the West End

Pottermore, a website with information and stories about characters in the Harry Potter universe, launched in 2011. On its release, Pottermore was rooted in the Harry Potter novels, tracing the series's story in an interactive format. Its brand was associated with Rowling: she introduced the site in a video as a shared media environment to which she and Harry Potter fans would contribute. The site was substantially revised in 2015 to resemble an encyclopedia of Harry Potter. Beyond encyclopedia content, the post-2015 Pottermore included promotions for Warner Bros. films including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered in the West End in May 2016 and on Broadway in July. At its London premiere, Rowling confirmed that she would not write any more Harry Potter books. Rowling collaborated with writer Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. Cursed Child's script was published as a book in July 2016. The play follows the friendship between Harry's son Albus and Scorpius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy's son, at Hogwarts.

In April 2023 it was announced that the Harry Potter television series on Max streaming service will feature a season dedicated to each of the seven Harry Potter books, with Rowling as executive producer.

Adult fiction and Robert Galbraith

In mid-2011, Rowling left Christopher Little Literary Agency and followed her agent Neil Blair to the Blair Partnership. He represented her for the publication of The Casual Vacancy, released in September 2012 by Little, Brown and Company. It was Rowling's first since Harry Potter ended, and her first book for adults. A contemporary take on 19th-century British fiction about village life, Casual Vacancy was promoted as a black comedy, while the critic Ian Parker described it as a "rural comedy of manners". It was adapted to a miniseries co-created by the BBC and HBO.

Little, Brown published The Cuckoo's Calling, the purported début novel of Robert Galbraith, in April 2013. It initially sold 1,500 copies in hardback. After an investigation prompted by discussion on Twitter, the journalist Richard Brooks contacted Rowling's agent, who confirmed Galbraith was Rowling's pseudonym. Rowling later said she enjoyed working as Robert Galbraith, a name she took from Robert F. Kennedy, a personal hero, and Ella Galbraith, a name she invented for herself in childhood. After the revelation, sales of Cuckoo's Calling escalated.

Continuing the Cormoran Strike series of detective novels, The Silkworm was released in 2014; Career of Evil in 2015; Lethal White in 2018; Troubled Blood in 2020; and The Ink Black Heart in 2022. Cormoran Strike, a disabled veteran of the War in Afghanistan with a prosthetic leg, is unfriendly and sometimes oblivious, but acts with a deep moral sensibility. In 2017, BBC One aired the first episode of the four-season series Strike, a television adaptation of the Cormoran Strike novels starring Tom Burke. The series was picked up by HBO for distribution in the United States and Canada.

Children's stories

The Ickabog was Rowling's first book aimed at children since Harry Potter. Ickabog is a monster that turns out to be real; a group of children find out the truth about the Ickabog and save the day. Rowling released The Ickabog for free online in mid-2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom. She began writing it in 2009 but set it aside to focus on other works including Casual Vacancy. Scholastic held a competition to select children's art for the print edition, which was published in the US and Canada on 10 November 2020. Profits went to charities focused on COVID-19 relief.

In The Christmas Pig, a young boy loses his favourite stuffed animal, a pig, and the Christmas Pig guides him through the fantastical Land of the Lost to retrieve it. The novel was published on 12 October 2021 and became a bestseller in the UK and the US.


She co-founded the charity Lumos and established the Volant Charitable Trust, named after her mother. Rowling's charitable giving centres on medical causes and supporting at-risk women and children.

She was appointed president of One Parent Families (now Gingerbread) in 2004, after becoming its first ambassador in 2000. She collaborated with Sarah Brown on a book of children's stories to benefit One Parent Families. She has donated several hundred thousand pounds to help women lawyers flee from the Taliban's control, helping hundreds of Afghans escape.

Rowling has made donations to support other medical causes. She named another institution after her mother in 2010, when she donated £10 million to found a multiple sclerosis research centre at the University of Edinburgh. She gave an additional £15.3 million to the centre in 2019. During the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, accompanied by an inflatable representation of Lord Voldemort, she read from Peter Pan as part of a tribute to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. To support COVID-19 relief, she donated six-figure sums to both Khalsa Aid and the British Asian Trust from royalties for The Ickabog.

Several publications in the Harry Potter universe have been sold for charitable purposes. Profits from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, both published in 2001, went to Comic Relief. To support Children's Voice, later renamed Lumos, Rowling sold a deluxe copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard at auction in 2007. Amazon's £1.95 million purchase set a record for a contemporary literary work and for children's literature. Rowling published the book and, in 2013, donated the proceeds of nearly £19 million (then about $30 million) to Lumos. Rowling and 12 other writers composed short pieces in 2008 to be sold to benefit Dyslexia Action and English PEN. Rowling's contribution was an 800-word Harry Potter prequel. When the revelation that Rowling wrote The Cuckoo's Calling led to an increase in sales, she donated the royalties to ABF The Soldiers' Charity (formerly the Army Benevolent Fund).


In politics, Rowling has donated to Britain's Labour Party and opposed Scottish independence and Brexit. Since late 2019, she has publicly expressed her opinions on transgender people and related civil rights. These have been criticised as transphobic by LGBT rights organisations and some feminists, but have received support from other feminists and individuals.


Rowling's mother, Anne, had a strong influence on her daughter. Early in Rowling's life, the support of her mother and sister instilled confidence and enthusiasm for storytelling. Anne was a creative and accomplished cook, who helped lead her daughters' Brownie activities, and took a job in the chemistry department at Wyedean while her daughters were there. The three walked to and from school, sharing stories about their day, more like sisters than mother and daughters.

Her mother died of multiple sclerosis on 30 December 1990. At the time, she was writing Harry Potter and had never told her mother about it.

Her mother's death heavily affected Rowling's writing. She later said that the Mirror of Erised is about her mother's death, and noted an "evident parallelism" between Harry confronting his own mortality and her life.

Personal life

Rowling moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English.

Rowling met the Portuguese television journalist Jorge Arantes in a bar in Porto, Portugal. The relationship was troubled, but they married on 16 October 1992. Their daughter Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes (named after Jessica Mitford) was born on 27 July 1993 in Portugal.

Rowling and Arantes separated on 17 November 1993 after a serious argument. In late 1993, with a draft of Harry Potter in her suitcase, Rowling moved with her daughter to Edinburgh, Scotland, to stay with her sister. She filed for divorce on 10 August 1994; the divorce was finalised on 26 June 1995.

Rowling married Neil Murray, a doctor, in 2001. Their son, David Gordon Rowling Murray, was born in 2003, and their daughter Mackenzie Jean Rowling Murray in 2005.

Interesting facts about J. K. Rowling

Rowling describes Jessica Mitford (pictured in 1937) as her greatest influence.
Jane Austen is Rowling's favourite author.
Jane Austen is Rowling's favourite writer.
  • At birth, Rowling had no middle name. Before her remarriage her name was Joanne Rowling.
  • Joanne's first attempt at writing, a story called "Rabbit" composed when she was six, was inspired by Richard Scarry's creatures.
  • When she was eleven or twelve, she wrote a short story, "The Seven Cursed Diamonds".
  • In secondary school, Rowling wanted to play heavy electric guitar. She was intelligent yet shy.
  • When she was a young teenager, Rowling's great-aunt gave her Hons and Rebels, the autobiography of the civil rights activist Jessica Mitford. Mitford became Rowling's heroine, and she read all her books.
  • As a child, Rowling read C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse, Manxmouse by Paul Gallico, and books by E. Nesbit and Noel Streatfeild. Rowling describes Jane Austen as her "favourite author of all time".
  • Rowling acknowledges Homer, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Shakespeare as literary influences. Scholars agree that Harry Potter is heavily influenced by the children's fantasy of writers such as Lewis, Goudge, Nesbit, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Diana Wynne Jones.
  • The Harry Porter manuscript was submitted to twelve publishers, all of which rejected it. Barry Cunningham, who ran the children's literature department at Bloomsbury Publishing, bought it, after Nigel Newton, who headed Bloomsbury at the time, saw his eight-year-old daughter finish one chapter and want to keep reading.
  • The Casual Vacancy (2012) was her first novel for adults.
  • She writes Cormoran Strike, an ongoing crime fiction series, under the alias Robert Galbraith.
  • Rowling identifies as a Christian. She does not believe in magic or witchcraft.
  • In 2004, Forbes named Rowling "the first billion-dollar author". By 2012, Forbes concluded she was no longer a billionaire due to her charitable donations and high UK taxes.
  • She was named the world's highest paid author by Forbes in 2008, 2017 and 2019.
  • Her UK sales total in excess of £238 million, making her the best-selling living author in Britain.
  • The 2021 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling's fortune at £820 million, ranking her as the 196th-richest person in the UK.
  • As of 2020, she also owns a £4.5 million Georgian house in Kensington and a £2 million home in Edinburgh.
  • In the 1990s and 2000s, Rowling was both a plaintiff and defendant in lawsuits alleging copyright infringement. Nancy Stouffer sued Rowling in 1999, alleging that Harry Potter was based on stories she published in 1984. Rowling won in September 2002.
Harry Potter sculpture in Leicester Square (50725720988)
Sculpture of Harry Potter in Leicester Square, London, 2020

Awards and honours

Rowling after receiving an honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen in 2006

Rowling's Harry Potter series has won awards for general literature, children's literature and speculative fiction. It has earned multiple British Book Awards, beginning with the Children's Book of the Year for the first two volumes, Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets.

The third novel, Prisoner of Azkaban, was nominated for an adult award, the Whitbread Book of the Year, where it competed against the Nobel prize laureate Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. The award body gave Rowling the children's prize instead (worth half the cash amount), which some scholars felt exemplified a literary prejudice against children's books. She won the World Science Fiction Convention's Hugo Award for the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, and the British Book Awards' adult prize – the Book of the Year – for the sixth novel, Half-Blood Prince.

Rowling was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2000 Birthday Honours for services to children's literature, and three years later received Spain's Prince of Asturias Award for Concord. Following the conclusion of the Harry Potter series, she won the Outstanding Achievement prize at the 2008 British Book Awards. The next year, she was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and leading magazine editors named her the "Most Influential Woman in the UK" in 2010. For services to literature and philanthropy, she was awarded the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) in 2017.

Many academic institutions have bestowed honorary degrees on Rowling, including her alma mater, the University of Exeter, and Harvard University, where she spoke at the 2008 commencement ceremony. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL), the Royal Society of Edinburgh (HonFRSE), and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (FRCPE).

Rowling shared the British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema with the cast and crew of the Harry Potter films in 2011. Her other awards include the 2017 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the 2021 British Book Awards' Crime and Thriller prize for the fifth volume of her Cormoran Strike series.

J.K.Rowling quotes

  • “If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
  • “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”
  • “The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and must therefore be treated with great caution.”
  • “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”


J. K. Rowling filmography
Year Title Credited as Notes Ref.
Actress Screenwriter Producer Executive producer
2003 The Simpsons Yes Voice cameo in "The Regina Monologues"
2010 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 Yes Film based on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 Yes
2015 The Casual Vacancy Yes Television miniseries based on The Casual Vacancy
2016 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Yes Yes Film inspired by the Harry Potter supplementary book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
2017–present Strike Yes Television series based on Cormoran Strike novels
2018 Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald Yes Yes Film inspired by Harry Potter supplementary book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
2022 Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Yes Yes Film inspired by Harry Potter supplementary book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

See also

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