Today in history: Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling turns 50

Joanne “Jo” Rowling, was born in Yate, Gloucestershire, on July 31, 1965. She writes under the pen names J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith.

Rowling is best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series, which has achieved worldwide reknown, won multiple awards, and sold more than 400 million copies. They have become the best-selling book series in history, the source for a series of films which is the second highest-grossing film series in history.

Rowling has led a “rags to riches” life story, progressing from state benefits to multi-millionaire status within five years. She signed up for welfare benefits after the death of her mother and a divorce from her first husband, leaving her as a single mom with one child. She described her economic status as being “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”

She was working as a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International when she conceived the idea for the Harry Potter series on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. She finished the first novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” in 1997. Six sequels followed, the last, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” in 2007. Since then, Rowling has written three books for adult readers, “The Casual Vacancy” (2012) and, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, the crime fiction novels “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (2013) and “The Silkworm” (2014).

In April 2015, Little, Brown and Co. published J.K. Rowling’s affecting 2008 Harvard commencement speech in book form, with illustrations by Joel Holland. In “Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination,” the author asks profound and provocative questions about the nature of failure and success, and how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and the world.

J.K. Rowling is by far the United Kingdom’s best-selling living author, and holder of the Order of the British Empire. Naming her as a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, Time magazine noted the social, moral, and political inspiration she has given her readers.

Harry Potter is now a global brand worth many billions of dollars. The last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history. The series, totaling 4,195 pages, has been translated, in whole or in part, into 65 languages.

Influenced by a rebellious communist

Rowling has used her wealth to support charities including Comic Relief, One Parent Families, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain (Rowling’s mother Anne died after ten years suffering from this disease), and in politics supports the Labour Party and Better Together. She established the Volant Charitable Trust, which uses its annual budget of £5.1 million to combat poverty and social inequality. She founded Lumos, a charity working to transform the lives of disadvantaged children.

Parents and librarians love the Harry Potter books, for they sparked an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and television. Untold numbers of lifelong readers were nurtured by the thrill and imagination of these stories, although it is reported that despite the huge uptick in reading of these books, adolescent reading overall has continued to decline.

Rowling has described Jane Austen as her favorite author, but when she was a young teenager, her great-aunt gave her a copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography, “Hons and Rebels.” Rowling has singled out the one-time communist and civil rights activist as her “most influential writer,” and made a point of reading all of her books. “Jessica Mitford has been my heroine since I was 14 years old,” said Rowling, “when I overheard my formidable great-aunt discussing how Mitford had run away at the age of 19 to fight with the Reds in the Spanish Civil War.” She named her first child Jessica and claims what inspired her about Mitford was that she was “incurably and instinctively rebellious, brave, adventurous, funny and irreverent; she liked nothing better than a good fight, preferably against a pompous and hypocritical target.”

In April 2010, Rowling published an article in The (London) Times, in which she criticized Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s plan to encourage married couples to stay together by offering them a £150 annual tax credit: “Nobody who has ever experienced the reality of poverty could say, ‘It’s not the money, it’s the message.’ When your flat has been broken into, and you cannot afford a locksmith, it is the money. When you are two pence short of a tin of baked beans, and your child is hungry, it is the money. When you find yourself contemplating shoplifting to get nappies, it is the money.”

Hear, hear! Brilliant birthday greetings to J.K. Rowling!

Adapted from and Wikipedia.

Photo: J.K. Rowling.  |  AP


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.