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J. K. Rowling

There's something magical, mystical, and even prophetic about daydreamers and writers.  The two seem to go together quite naturally.  Certainly they went together when Joanne Kathleen Rowling, better known to Harry Potter fans as J. K., met the boy wizard, himself.  The combination has proven to be wondrous and inspirational as well as extraordinarily successful.

Born in Chipping Sodbury, England, on Aug. 1, 1966, Rowling turned her own natal day into the birthday of Harry Potter.  When he reached his eleventh year, he learned that he was a wizard.  He was asked officially to leave his Muggle aunt and uncle and attend the special Hogwarts' school for wizards.

As a child, Rowling was remarkably similar to her most famous fictional character.  She was short and stocky and wore very thick glasses.  By her own admission, she was argumentative and bookish.  She did well in school and was named the top girl in her class in her senior year.  Rowling said that as a child she resembled Hermione Granger, adding that she hoped she was neither as clever nor as annoying as Granger.

After being graduated from public school with top honors in English, French, and German, Rowling went on to study French at the University of Exeter, where she earned a degree in 1986.  Over the next several years, she held a number of clerical jobs, including one at a publishing firm, where one of her primary duties was to send rejection slips out to prospective authors.

Inside, though, Rowling had already decided what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.  She had decided that she wanted to write.

She began work on her first Harry Potter book in 1990.  The idea for the main character, a lonely, downtrodden 11-year-old orphan who learns that he is actually a wizard when he's invited to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, came to Rowling while she was stuck on a delayed train between Manchester and London.  Although she left England a short time later to teach English in Portugal, she continued to flesh out Harry's story.

Rowling returned to Britain in 1993, settling in Edinburgh, Scotland, to be near her sister.  Divorced, unemployed, and living on public assistance while caring for her young daughter, Jessica, she suffered through a period of poverty and depression while struggling to make ends meet.  She wrote much of the first Harry Potter story during her daughter's naps, often at a table in a small neighborhood cafe.  She wrote it in longhand because she couldn't afford even a used typewriter.

When the Scottish Arts Council gave her a grant to finish the book, she finally completed Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  It was released in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1998 and was an overnight sensation.  Rowling became famous, and Harry Potter quickly turned into a euphemism for a gold mine. 

During promotional tours, Rowling often speaks at major sporting venues, with images of her face projected on big screens behind her, more in keeping with a rock star than a children's book author.  By the age of 35, she had become the highest-earning woman in Britain, netting more than $30 million in 2000.

Rowling has had a series of seven Harry Potter story lines rattling around her head since 1995.  She plans to turn each of them into a book.  They include one book for each year Harry spends at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

"I want to finish these seven books and look back and think that whatever happened," the author said, "however much this hurricane whirled around me, I stayed true to what I wanted to write.  This is my Holy Grail: that when I finish writing book seven, I can say--hand on heart--I didn't change a thing.  I wrote the story I meant to write."

Rowling released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on June 21, 2003.  Within an hour, Barnes and Noble, the largest bookseller in the country, had sold 286,000 copies, which distills down to 80 books a second.  By the end of the day, the book had sold five million copies.

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