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J.K. Rowling

  b. 1965 | English author

At The Bottom
 1993

Penniless and wracked with depression...

Penniless and wracked with depression, a young, aspiring English writer and single mother named Joanne Rowling toyed with the idea of taking her own life.  Although this would deprive her infant daughter of the only parent she’d truly known, Rowling wondered if her baby wouldn’t have a better chance in life with someone else — someone who could pay the rent, someone who could keep a marriage together, someone who could offer the emotional and financial stability that Rowling believed herself incapable of providing on her own.  Recently separated from her husband, Rowling had left Portugal (where they’d met and married) and returned to Britain in December 1993, taking up residence in a flat near her sister in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The change of scenery did her little good.  Even writing failed to provide relief, as she found herself unable to work on the novel — a fantasy tale about a boy wizard named Harry Potter — that she’d begun writing three years earlier.

At The Top
 2007

Rowling's novels had become an empire unto themselves, worth more than $15 billion in revenue from films and merchandising

At the stroke of midnight on July 21, 2007, J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series went on sale and promptly sold 11 million copies before the day ended.  Rowling’s novels had become an empire unto themselves, worth more than $15 billion in revenue from films and merchandising, and Harry Potter himself became one of the most successful characters in children’s literary history, with an astonishing 120 million copies from the seven-book series having been sold worldwide.  Translated into more than five dozen languages, Rowling’s books took her from Great Britain’s welfare rolls to the Sunday Times Rich List as one of the wealthiest women in the nation.  With her fortune estimated at nearly $800 million, Rowling also established herself as a notable philanthropist, donating millions to charities for single mothers as well as to research on multiple sclerosis, the disease that took her own mother’s life a year before Rowling considered ending her own.

The Comeback

She began receiving small grants to support her writing, and she pulled through the darkest period of her life.

With her marriage falling apart and no viable source of income, Rowling saw little reason for hope during the difficult months following her return to Great Britain.  Her family, however, helped save her from the bottom.  As Rowling explained in 2008, “[My] mid-twenties life circumstances were poor and I really plummeted.  The thing that made me go for help . . . was probably my daughter.  She was something that earthed me, grounded me, and I thought, this isn’t right, this can’t be right, she cannot grow up with me in this state.” Although she remained “on the dole” for much of the next year, Rowling found the energy to return to her novel, spurred on as well by her sister’s encouragement.  In time, she began receiving small grants to support her writing, and she pulled through the darkest period of her life.  A dozen publishing houses  rejected the novel, but Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone  was eventually picked up by a small press (Bloomsbury) whose publisher warned Rowling that children’s books never made their authors any money.  After an initial press run of 500 copies, the book received numerous favorable reviews as well as a National Book Award and a Nestle Smarties Prize, both of which propelled the book and its author toward wider recognition.

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