TRAILBLAZER THURSDAY: J.K. Rowling
by Anna Morais
In only a few years, Joanne Rowling went from a struggling mother on government aid to one of the wealthiest and most famous women in the world.
In 1990, while on a delayed train from Manchester to London, Rowling conceived the idea of Harry Potter. She was too shy to ask for a pen, but the moment she returned home she began to write what became the first Harry Potter novel. She later moved to Portugal where she married Jorge Arantes and had her first daughter, Jessica. The two divorced shortly after, and Rowling was thrown out of the home the three shared.
After her divorce in 1993, Rowling moved to Edinburgh with her daughter where she was barely making ends meet on government aid. Rowling spent the coming years finishing the first Harry Potter novel in cafes while her daughter napped in a stroller next to her.
Rowling went on to send her first copy of the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone to 13 publishers, 12 of which denied her. A small publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, agreed to work with her. Though Bloomsbury agreed to work with Rowling and pay her in advance, she was advised to continue teaching, since children’s authors don't tend to be paid well. Rowling was also advised to write under a different name, as the publisher felt a target audience comprised mostly of young boys, would not want to read a story written by a woman. In response, Rowling who had no middle name, added a K for her paternal grandmother Kathleen as the second initial in her pen name. Thus, J.K. Rowling was born.
Within three days of publication in the United Kingdom, Scholastic bid $100,000 for American publishing rights.
No one in the publishing industry thought the Harry Potter series would turn into the phenomenon it is today. Rowling led the way to some of young adult literature’s greatest turning points. The Harry Potter series showed authors and publishers alike it is indeed possible to write and publish long novels intended for young people. Young people will read long stories. This went on to reinforce lost ideologies that children and young adult authors are just as respectable as adult authors.
The resurgence of reading caused by the popularity of the Harry Potter series showed analysts children and young adults were beginning to develop an interest in reading again, something professionals were convinced was coming to a stop. In 2004, amid the birth of Potter novel after Potter novel, the sale of children’s literature in general was growing at a rate of 2 percent a year. Since 2004 the market for children's literature has grown 52 percent. This is astounding as the book market in general has only grown 33 percent in the same amount of time. During a time where books could have started to become obsolete, J.K Rowling’s novels reintroduced every generation to the magic of written words. One could even say J.K. Rowling’s novels changed the storytelling industry forever.
Though Rowling is one of the wealthiest women worldwide, she is incredibly humble. In 2011, Forbes rumored J.K Rowling to be worth $1 billion, something she publicly denied. Today she is no longer included on the billionaire’s list, likely because she has made more than $150 million in charitable donations.
When prompted to talk about her proudest accomplishments, Rowling stated, “I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life. Yes, I got off benefits and wrote the first four Harry Potter books as a single mother, but nothing makes me prouder than what [her daughter] Jessica told me recently about the first five years of her life: ‘I never knew we were poor. I just remember being happy.’”
Whether you are a Harry Potter fan or not, you simply cannot deny the impact J.K Rowling has had on the world. From the millions of dollars she has donated to charities worldwide, to the stories that will help shape the lives and literature of generations to come, Rowling has created an empire built on hard work, humility, and maybe even a spell or two.