American Icon: J K Rowling
Photo courtesy of UPI.com
In 1993 J.K. Rowling was an unemployed single mother on welfare benefits. 11 years later she was named by Forbes as the 2nd richest female entertainer in the world.
J.K. Rowling, best known for her wildly successful Harry Potter series, shows us that following your dreams, even when they don’t seem attainable, can lead to great things.
Joanne Rowling has described her teenage years as unhappy. Her mother struggled with multiple sclerosis and Jo’s relationship with her father was strained. She often wrote fantasy stories that she would read to her sister. Jo has said that she later based the character of Hermione Granger on herself as a young girl.
After being declined by Oxford University, Joanne studied French and Classics at the University of Exeter.
The idea for the Harry Potter series came to Jo when she was on a four hour delayed train from Manchester to London. When she got home to her flat that evening, she began writing immediately and continued for the next 5 years.
A few years after college, she moved to Porto, Portugal to teach English as a foreign language. There she met her first husband, and had her first child. Less than a year later, they divorced and Jo moved to Scotland to be near her sister.
Jo describes seeing herself as a failure at this period in her life - divorced, jobless and a single mother who had to use welfare benefits. However, she had 3 chapters of Harry Potter in her suitcase, and she says that this feeling of failure allowed her to focus on her writing.
The Harry Potter Series
In 1995, Jo finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and found a literary agent who agreed to help her find a publisher. Over the next year, they were turned down by 12 publishers, and finally picked up by Bloomsbury.
It’s said that Bloomsbury agreed to publish Harry Potter because the young daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman loved the first three chapters and demanded to read the rest of the book.
The pen name J.K. Rowling came about because Jo’s publisher didn’t think that young boys would want to read a fantasy book written by a woman. So Joanne used her first initial and the initial “K” for her grandmother, Kathleen.
Over the following year, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone won 3 book awards, and then was published by Scholastic in the United States. The popularity of the book in both the US and the UK propelled Jo’s success and the continuation of the series.
Over the next 7 years, Jo wrote and published the following 6 books in the Harry Potter series, each becoming more popular than the last.
The Harry Potter brand is now worth an estimated $15 billion and is attributed to sparking an interest in reading among children and young people, when technology might have made books obsolete.
All 7 books were made into blockbuster movies (the last book, split into two movies), with Jo assisting in writing and producing.
Jo is now involved in many charities that are close to her heart - including anti-poverty, reading and education programs for children, and multiple sclerosis research. She has written two companion booklets to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages. All proceeds from both booklets have gone to Comic Relief, a UK anti-poverty fundraiser.
At American Sunglass, we appreciate the inspirational story of J.K. Rowling’s perseverance and success, and the great work she does for those in need.