Joanne Kathleen Rowling was born on July 31st, 1965 in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, and grew up in Chepstow, Gwent. At school, her favourite subject was English, but when she went to Exeter University (where incidentally she was a year below me -- and no, I'm afraid I don't remember her) she studied French, with a view to pursuing a career as a bilingual secretary. After graduating from Exeter in 1986, she was for a while,"the worst secretary ever".

In 1990, at the age of 26, she moved to Portugal to teach English, a career she enjoyed, and she met and married a Portuguese journalist. Their daughter, Jessica, was born in 1993, and she started writing the first of the Harry Potter books. This was the third novel she had started, but the other two were abandoned.

When her marriage ended in divorce, Rowling and her daughter moved to Edinburgh, where she still lives, to be close to her younger sister, Di. Rowling was suffering from depression, and set herself a challenge - to finish the novel before she started work as a French teacher, and get it published. She wrote at a café table while Jessica was napping.

Rowling says she wrote Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, the first novel in the series, when "I was very low, and I had to achieve something. Without the challenge, I would have gone stark raving mad." The Dementors, the shadowy life-draining guards of the Wizards' prison at Azkaban, which appear in the third and fourth book of the series, are powerful personifications of depression.

The Scottish Arts Council gave her a grant to finish the book and, she eventually sold it to Bloomsbury, in the UK, after a number of rejections. She sold the US rights a few months later to Arthur A Levine Books/Scholastic Press. This latter sale was lucrative enough to allow her to give up teaching, and concentrate on writing.

The book was published in the UK by Bloomsbury Children's Books in June 1997 and won the British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year, and the Smarties Prize. It was published in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The second book, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was published in the July 1998 (and also won the Smarties Prize), the third, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban was published in the UK in July 1999, and the fourth Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in July 2000. The last book was a best-seller on presales alone with advance orders of over 1.8 million, and the first three books have sold more than 35 million copies in 35 languages.

Rowling plans a seven book series, to take Harry up to school leaving age, with each book chronicling one school year, and with the themes covered and the level of maturity of the writing growing up with Harry to provide a progression for readers.

The film rights for the first two books have been sold to Warner brothers and production of the movie version of The Sorcerer's Stone is underway.

In 2000 Rowling was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Exeter University.

Apparently, she still writes at café tables.
Some people have critisized her for advancing the level of violence and serious issues in each of her successive Harry Potter books. I think what she has done has planned not only seven books that follow the adolescence of Harry Potter, but the developmental needs of growing readers. A young child, who is cognitively and socially developed enough to understand only so much about the world, can start the first in the series and 'grow' with it. As each book develops more challenging aspects to understanding it, the readers are stretched to grasp it.
Also, they are following Harry in age (because each book happens to be just perfect reading for a child the same age as Harry is in that volume), so their interests, fears, typical-for-the-age-problems they face are mirrored in Harry. This is a character who has become an invisible friend for many, many, kids.

In a way, she's revived a form of literature that was last seen (with enough quality to it to make it mainstream) with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (the Little House on the Prairie series), which focused on the the growing lives of a famiy in prairieland, USA. Wilder's books were just as much historical fiction and a window into viewing what life was like for children and adults of that time period as they were a good story. All the books were based on her own history, and that of her family.
Rowling's books don't have any historical significance to them, they just tell a REALLY good story.
Let's not forget the immense value of really good storytelling!!

Rowling deserves recognition (which many have given her) for drawing out that part of us that demands good stories and defies whatever it has to in order to get them. Until Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone/Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was released, most children's and young adult books reflected an element of forced moralization or lesson teaching to them that was pushed by the powers that be, (our current social climate, the grand forces of a national education system, a nation with a war on violence -anyone note the oxymoron there?- and a political and religious system that deemed our youth were running wild). The end result was that publishers were pressured into publishing books that had some 'moral, educational or civic' value to them. What happened was the storytelling got lost and the 'issues' became more important.

If we look hard enough (if we look at all) we find many 'issues', 'morals', and 'lessons' to be learned in Rowling's books. But it's not the focus, it's a by-product of what happens when an author superbly crafts her characters, places them in real situations (real in the setting of the story) and masterfully tells the stories of what happens.

I think we could all, to paraphrase a quote from Mrs. Weasly, "Take a leaf out of her book"!

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