Tuesday, July 19, 2011

0017: J.K. Rowling

Last night I came across her life story - or a version of... it was a movie on Lifetime, "Magic Beyond Words / JK Rowling". It was so inspirational - I even shed a few tears. Although I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 this weekend and have seen most of the movies and even read up to book 4 of the 7, I'd missed really knowing anything about J.K. Rowling herself. All I'd heard was that she was at some point broke, with a baby and then became a billionaire with Harry Potter. Here are some interesting things I've learned since yesterday - between this movie and Wikipedia (More here.):

  • Her real name is Joanne Rowling. She was asked to use initials so that boys would read her books but her mom hadn't given her a middle name so she took Katherine, her grandmother's name and came up with J.K. Rowling.
  • As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. She recalls, "I can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it. Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee."
  • At 25 years old, she was waiting for a four-hour delayed train when the idea of a boy attending a wizardry school came to her. It would take another 5 years to finish the manuscript. 
  • She started writing as her mother was dying of multiple sclerosis and never told her about the story. Her mom seemed very loving and supportive, in the movie she said, "Find happiness, that thing that completes and fulfills you and when you find it, never let go of it because you don't know how long you are going to have it for." Her mom died after a 10-year struggle with M.S., Rowling was 25 years old, Harry came to her only months prior. She told the Boston Globe that this death heavily affected her writing and that she introduced much more detail about Harry's loss in the first book, because she knew how it felt.
  • Not too long after her moms death she had gotten married (while teaching English in Portugal), had a little girl, gotten divorced and was unemployed and on welfare. 
  • At one point, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression, and contemplated suicide. It was the feeling of her illness which brought her the idea of Dementors, soul-sucking creatures introduced in the third book. 
Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as "the biggest failure I knew." But she described her failure as liberating:

"Failure meant stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other then what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life." J.K. Rowling, Harvard commencement address, 2008. 

"She has shown that it is our choices that define us; that our weaknesses can sometimes be our greatest strength, and that without faith in love, friendship and loyalty we are nothing." (James Runcie.)

  • In 3 years, J.K. Rowling went from being a welfare mother to one of the richest women in Great Britain.
  • In 2000, Rowling established the Volant Charitable Trust, which gives to organizations that aid children, one parent families, and multiple sclerosis.
  • Every 30 seconds, someone in the world starts reading a Harry Potter book. 
  • It has been estimated that more than 400 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide.
  • In 2006, Rowling was honored by paleontologists who named a 66-million-year-old dinosaur "Dracorex Hogwartsia" because it reminded them of a beast from the Harry Potter books. (More here.)

What a beautiful soul and amazing inspiration!

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