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EFL Club > People > J.K. Rowling

Name: J.K. Rowling

Genre: Literature

Birth: July 31, 1965 England

Major Achievement: creator of Harry Potter

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.” - J.K. Rowling
1 Biography

Joanne Rowling was born in Yate, near Bristol, a few miles south of a town called Dursley ("Harry Potter"'s Muggle-family). Her father Peter Rowling was an engineer for Rolls Royce in Bristol at this time. Her mother, Anne, was half-French and half-Scottish. They met on a train as it left King's Cross Station in London. Her sister Diana is about 2 years younger than Joanne. In 1971, Peter Rowling moved his family to the nearby village of Winterbourne (still in the Bristol vicinity). During the family's residence in Winterbourne, Jo and Di Rowling were friends with neighborhood children, Ian and Vikki Potter. In 1974, the Rowling family moved yet again, this time to Tutshill, near the Welsh border-town of Chepstow in the Forest of Dean and across the Severn River from the greater Bristol area. Rowling admits to having been a bit of a daydreamer as a child and began writing stories at the age of six. After leaving Exeter University, where she read French and Classics, she started work as a teacher but daydreamed about becoming a writer. One day, stuck on a delayed train for four hours between Manchester and London, she dreamed up a boy called "Harry Potter". That was in 1990. It took her six years to write the book. In the meantime, she went to teach in Portugal, married a Portuguese television journalist, had her daughter, Jessica, divorced her husband and returned to Britain when Jessica was just three months old. She went to live in Edinburgh to be near her sister, Di. Her sudden penury made her realize that it was "back-against-the-wall time" and she decided to finish her "Harry Potter" book. She sent the manuscript to two agents and one publisher, looking up likely prospects in the library. One of these agents that she picked at random based on the fact that she liked his name, Christopher Little, was immediately captivated by the manuscript and signed her on as his client within three days. During the 1995-1996 time-frame, while hoping to get the manuscript for "Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone" published, Rowling worked as a French teacher in Edinburgh. Several publishers turned down the manuscript before Bloomsbury agreed to purchase it in 1996.

J.K. Rowling - Biography. The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on February 14th, 2009, from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0746830/bio .

2 Vocabulary

Do you know these words?

achieve appreciate appropriate aware chapter
cite civil code complex conclusion
contract controversial convert convince create
culture debate decade devote distort
dramatic enormous ethical exclusive expand
expert finalize generation global globalization
impact margin media perspective project
promote publication publish release reveal
series significant survive symbol theme
tradition underestimate version

Match the words on the left with their definitions on the right.

1 appreciate a to finish or complete
2 appropriate b causing disagreement or discussion
3 aware c to not realize how large or great something or someone is or will be
4 chapter d when social and cultural influences, gradually become similar in all parts of the world
5 cite e to make something public, also to express a feeling which you have been trying not to show
6 complex f to encourage the popularity, sale, development or existence of something
7 controversial g to make known something that is surprising or that was previously secret
8 convert h knowing that something exists, or having knowledge or experience of a particular thing
9 convince i suitable or right for a particular situation or occasion
10 distort j limited to only one person or group of people
11 dramatic k to make someone believe or feel sure about something
12 ethical l important or noticeable
13 exclusive m a powerful effect that something, especially something new, has on a situation or person
14 finalize n to speak or write words taken from a particular writer or written work
15 globalization o to recognize or understand that something is valuable or important
16 impact p conforming to moral standards
17 margin q a set of books published by the same company or person which deal with the same subject
18 perspective r any of the separate parts into which a book or other piece of text is divided
19 promote s very sudden or noticeable, or full of action and excitement
20 publication t to cause someone or something to change in form, character or opinion
21 release u comparison of something to other things so that it can be accurately and fairly judged
22 reveal v difficult to understand or find an answer to because of having many different parts
23 series w to change something from its usual, original, natural or intended meaning
24 significant x a book, magazine, newspaper or document in which information or stories are published
25 underestimate y an amount beyond the minimum necessary


3 Reading

When the last battle was over and the last secrets of the seven-book, 17-year journey were spilled, Jo Rowling did what grieving, grateful and emotionally exhausted people do: she ransacked the minibar.

She'd known from the start that Harry Potter would survive his ordeal; the question was how she would handle her own. This time a year ago, she was holed up on deadline in the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh to escape the bedlam at home, writing the climactic chapter in which her hero walks into the dark forest to give his life for those he loves. And while she knew that all would be well in the end, "I really was walking him to his death, because I was about to finish writing about him," she says. It's her favorite chapter in her favorite book — but when she finished, "I just burst into tears and couldn't stop crying. I opened up the minibar and drank down one of those pathetic little bottles of champagne."

Rowling calls her time with Harry "one of the longest relationships of my adult life," her rock through bereavement, a turbulent marriage and divorce, single motherhood, changes of country, fear of failure — and transcendent joy, on the day a wise man at Bloomsbury offered her $2,250 and agreed to print 1,000 books. When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows went on sale last July, it sold 15 million copies worldwide in 24 hours, breaking the record that had been held by each of the previous three books. (To put that in perspective, 2005's Half-Blood Prince moved more copies on its first day than The Da Vinci Code did in an entire year.) Meanwhile, the movie version of Book 5 — Order of the Phoenix — made $645 million, and plans for an Orlando, Fla., theme park were unveiled. Forbes magazine put Rowling second only to Oprah as the richest woman in entertainment, ahead of Martha Stewart and Madonna — and as the first person to become a billionaire by writing books.

So the journey that began in 1990 finally ended in 2007, leaving Rowling a little more margin to savor ballet recitals and grocery shopping and intensive, often ingenious charitable work. A woman of high energy and a short fuse, she looks almost serene now, dressed in black with a long gray belted sweater, dark red nails and a funky black ring the size of a walnut. But as we sit and talk over coffee, you hear the longing when the conversation shifts back to Hogwarts, as though we've retreated to a safe place but can't stay there long. "I can only say, and many of my more militant fans will find this almost impossible to believe," she says, "but I don't think anyone has mourned more than I have. It's left the most enormous gaping hole in my life."

You can tell that she still doesn't give many interviews. She's funny and self-mocking and earnest by turns but always unguarded and unrehearsed, especially since now, after all this time, she can talk about the things she had to keep secret because her readers did not want their pleasure spoiled by knowing how things would turn out. "It's a massive, massive sense of release," she says, to be able to answer any question, tell the backstory in Web chats with obsessive fans who want to know the middle names of characters down to the third generation. She doesn't actually need to talk to Barbara Walters (who named her the most fascinating person of the year), because her fans know where to find her: her website, which includes news, a diary, a rubbish bin for addressing the more idiotic rumors, and answers to both the frequently and the never asked questions. She has them all in her head or her notebooks, with nothing to hide anymore.

It's not just Harry's secrets that can now be revealed. It is hers as well. The biggest mystery, appropriately, had to do with Rowling's own soul. As soon as her tales achieved fame, they were denounced by fundamentalist clerics from the U.S. to Russia to the Muslim world. The Pope warned about their "subtle seductions" that might "distort Christianity in the soul." One day when Rowling was shopping for toys in New York City, a man recognized her. Her voice gets hard as she recalls how he brought his face very close to hers. "He says, 'I'm praying for you,' in tones that were more appropriate to saying, 'Burn in hell,'" she says, "and I didn't like that 'cause I was with my kids. It was unnerving. If ever I expected to come face to face with an angry Christian fundamentalist, it wasn't in FAO Schwarz."

Through it all, Rowling didn't really fight back. Talk too much about her faith, she feared, and it would become clear who would live and who would die and who might actually do both. After six books with no mention of God or Scripture, in the last book Harry discovers on his parents' graves a Bible verse that, Rowling says, is the theme for the entire series. It's a passage from I Corinthians in which Paul discusses Jesus' Resurrection: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

It turns out that Rowling, like her hero, is a Seeker. She talks about having a great religious curiosity, going back to childhood. "No one in my family was a believer. But I was very drawn to faith, even while doubting," she says. "I certainly had this need for something that I wasn't getting at home, so I was the one who went out looking for religion." As a girl, she would go to church by herself. She still attends regularly, and her children were all christened. Her Christian defenders always thought her faith shined through her stories. One called the books the "greatest evangelistic opportunity the church has ever missed." But Rowling notes that there was always another side to the holy war. "At least as much as they've been attacked from a theological point of view," she says, the books "have been lauded and taken into pulpit, and most interesting and satisfying for me, it's been by several different faiths." The values in the books, she observes, are by no means exclusively Christian, and she is wary of appearing to promote one faith over another rather than inviting people to explore and struggle with the hard questions.

Rowling's religious agenda is very clear: she does not have one. "I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. I wasn't trying to do what C.S. Lewis did. It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it's perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God." And now she climbs into a pulpit of her own, and you can tell how much this all matters to her, if it weren't already clear from her 4,100-page treatise on tolerance. "I'm opposed to fundamentalism in any form," she says. "And that includes in my own religion."

She has certainly found her disciples. Critics can dismiss Rowling's grownup fans as "kidults," but especially as the series unfolded, her audience expanded far beyond children and her impact well beyond entertainment. In addition to some 300 wizard rock bands, reams of fan fiction and countless websites, the books have inspired outfits like the Harry Potter Alliance, an online group founded by Andrew Slack, 28, a consultant in Boston, around the rallying cry "The weapon we have is love." When Deathly Hallows was released, the group organized house parties from Australia to South America and coast to coast in the U.S. to raise awareness of genocide in Darfur, in a kind of "What Would Harry Do?" campaign. The parties featured performances by such bands as the Remus Lupins and the Moaning Myrtles and a podcast by Africa experts, including Joe Wilson, a.k.a. Mr. Valerie Plame. "We can be like Dumbledore's army, who woke the world up to Voldemort's return, and wake our ministries and our world to ending the genocide in Darfur," Slack urged Harry Potter Alliance members in tones of earnest camaraderie. In the days that followed, the student antigenocide coalition stand saw a 40% increase in sign-ups for high school chapters and a 52% increase in calls to its hotline, 1-800-GENOCIDE.

When asked about the group, Rowling practically levitates off the couch, spilling her coffee along the way. "It's incredible, it's humbling, and it's uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character," she says. She's especially pleased by the group's choice of mission, and the old Amnesty International worker in her surfaces. "What did my books preach against throughout? Bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what. All of these things are happening in Darfur. So they really couldn't have chosen a better cause."

But it's also one more example of how she will never really be in control of Harry again. She knows he's bigger than she is now and not always in ways she likes. Parents may need to let go of their children, but artists want eternal ownership, and you can feel her ambivalence — or even something more fierce and protective — at the prospect of legions of writers who want to take up Harry's story as their own. One declared at last summer's biggest Potterfest that, as Rowling had left the sandbox, it was open for all to play in. But this is no game to her. She can tell you exactly which character she was sketching on New Year's Eve 1990 at the moment her mother died. (It was Professor Sprout, McGonagall's "pragmatic foil," she says. "I was six months in, and I was finalizing the composition of the head table.") Knowing where you were when you first read Harry Potter, she says, is not the same as knowing where you were when you created him. If you can solve the puzzles and break the codes on her website, you can see her earliest drawings and edited manuscript pages and glimpse just how deep her devotion goes. "He's still mine," she says. "Many people may feel that they own him. But he's a very real character to me, and no one's thought about him more than I have."

He is also a billion-dollar media property and a global cultural figure. Now translated into 65 languages, the books have joined a canon that stretches from Cinderella to Star Wars, giving people a way to discuss culture and commerce, politics and values. Princeton English professor William Gleason compares the series' impact to the frenzy that surrounded Uncle Tom's Cabin before the Civil War. "That book penetrated all levels of society," he says. "It's remarkable how similar the two moments are." And he does not see this as a passing fad or some triumph of clever marketing. "They've spoken profoundly to enough readers that they will be read and reread by children and by adults for a long time," he says. Feminist scholars write papers on Hermione's road to self-determination. Law professors cite Dobby's tale to teach contract law and civil rights. University of Tennessee law professor Benjamin Barton published "Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy," in the Michigan Law Review, which examined Rowling's view of the legitimacy of government. His conclusion? "Rowling may do more for libertarianism than anyone since John Stuart Mill." A Rutgers researcher named a rare rain-forest plant in Ecuador apparata after her verb apparate because it seemed to appear out of nowhere. French intellectuals debate whether the stories indoctrinate kids into free-market capitalism. In Turkey, the books were absorbed into the argument over Turkey's cultural geography: Is Harry a symbol of Western imperialism or of lost Eastern traditions of mysticism and alchemy? A seventh-grade teacher in Pakistan in November invited her class to compare the country's crisis to Harry Potter. The class immediately cast Pervez Musharraf as Voldemort and Benazir Bhutto as Bellatrix. "Potter is like a Rorschach blot," says Georgetown government professor Daniel Nexon, "for people articulating concerns about globalization in their cultural setting. It's incredibly significant that Potter even enters these debates."

And that is on top of the impact, even her critics acknowledge, of inspiring a generation of obsessive readers unafraid of fat books and complex plots. "They're easy to underestimate because of what I call the three Deathly Hallows for academics," says James Thomas, a professor of English at Pepperdine University. "They couldn't possibly be good because they're too recent, they're too popular, and they're too juvenile." But he argues that the books do more than entertain. "They've made millions of kids smarter, more sensitive, certainly more literate and probably more ethical and aware of hypocrisy and lust for power. They've made children better adults, I think. I don't know of any books that have worked that kind of magic on so many millions of readers in so short a time in the history of publications."

It was the end of a long January day when the last page of the last chapter was complete. Rowling had finished putting on the page numbers and found herself alone in her suite at the Balmoral feeling, she recalls, some "end-of-epic euphoria." So she danced around the room a bit and then in a fit of creative destruction took out her pen and wrote on the base of the bust of Hermes that stood in the window alcove, "J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007."

The ending, naturally, was the most controversial part of the book. It would have been so much neater just to kill Harry. "I've known that all along," she says, but that was never her plan. To her, the most noble thing, the real bravery, is to rebuild after a trauma. Some fans were disappointed that after all his adventures, Harry's greatest concern in the end is whether his son will fit in at Hogwarts. "It's a bittersweet ending," she says. "But that's perfect, because that is what happens to our heroes. We're human. I kept arguing that 'love is the most important force, love is the most important force.' So I wanted to show him loving. Sometimes it's dramatic: it means you lay down your life. But sometimes it means making sure someone's trunk is packed and hoping they'll be O.K. at school."

Rowling has some rebuilding of her own to do. Her time, she says, will be divided among her children, her charities and her writing. But she has only to look at George Lucas to appreciate that the pressure to return to Hogwarts will be ferocious — and some of it self-inflicted. She's already had to cope with the pressure of not disappointing the fan closest to her: her daughter Jessica, 14. What will happen when her two younger children a decade from now discover the stories for themselves and know that Mom has the power to make more of them? "There have been times since finishing, weak moments," she says, "when I've said, 'Yeah, all right,' to the eighth novel." But she's convinced she's doing the right thing to take some time away, do something else. She's working on two projects now, an adult novel and a "political fairy tale." "If, and it's a big if, I ever write an eighth book about the [wizarding ] world, I doubt that Harry would be the central character," she says. "I feel like I've already told his story. But these are big ifs. Let's give it 10 years and see how we feel then." It's a pretty safe bet how her audience will feel. But we'll just have to wait and prepare to be surprised.

Highlighted words: Academic Word List (570)
Word Count 2628

Gibbs, Nancy (2007). J.K.Rowling - Person of the Year 2007 - TIME. Time Inc. Published on December 17, 2007. Retrieved on February 14th, 2009, from http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/personoftheyear/article/0,28804,1690753_1695388_1695436,00.html.

4 Reading Quiz

Read the article above. Then choose the right answer to the questions from below.

1 What was Jo Rowling doing a year before the article above was written?

She was busy writing. She was walking in the forest. She was playing golf. She was on vacation in Scotland.

2 How does Jo Rowling now spend her free time?

charity work and talking in coffee shops charity work and window shopping watching ballet and grocery shopping watching ballet and window shopping

3 Without using your dictionary, what do you think the word "denounce" means? (paragraph 6)

to change to praise to pray for to speak out against

4 What, according to Jo Rowling, is the theme for the entire Harry Potter series?

culture, commerce, politics and values Harry discovers his parents. Jesus' Resurrection The last enemy to defeat is death.

5 What is one function of the Harry Potter Alliance?

to convert people to Christianity to form wizard rock bands to manage Harry Potter fan websites to raise awareness of genocide in Darfur

6 What have some people been discussing with reference to Harry Potter?

commerce, politics, history culture, commerce, science culture, politics, values culture, science, values

7 What does Princeton English professor William Gleason compare the series' impact to?

all levels of society Cinderella and Star Wars the Civil War Uncle Tom's Cabin

8 What does James Thomas, professor of English at Pepperdine University, think of the Harry Potter series?

They are too complex. They are too recent, too popular and too juvenille. They have made kids smarter and more sensitive. They only entertain.

9 What was Harry Potter's final great concern?

his son's future at school love is the most important force to avoid being killed to rebuild after a trauma

10 What, according to the article above, is Jo Rowling working on now?

creating a movie with George Lucas making time for her children wrting an adult novel and a fariy tale writing the eighth book


5 Listening

© 2007 NBC Universal, Inc.  

6 Listening Quiz

1 How does Jo Rowling feel now that she has finished writing the Harry Potter series?

2 What did Jo Rowling write about as a six year old child?

3 Where was Jo Rowling going to when she first got the idea about Harry Potter?

4 Whom did she talk about Harry Potter to while living in London?

5 What became a central theme of the Harry Potter books?

6 What was the auction in New York in 1997 for?

7 How much did Forbes estimate Jo Rowling's wealth to be?

8 For how long was Jo Rowling a single mother?

9 Where did she get engaged to her second husband, Neil?

10 What causes is she devoting her time to now?


7 Discussion

1 What do you think of Harry Potter?

2 Which of the Harry Potter books have you read?

3 Who is your favorite character in the Harry Potter series, and why?

4 Is there anyone you know in real life that is like one of the characters in Harry Potter?

5 What do you think is the main message of the Harry Potter series?

6 Harry Potter has been interpreted in many different ways. In what way could it be used to discuss issues in your major?

7 Jo Rowling's parents met on a train. Have you ever met anyone interesting on a train?

8 How do you think you will meet your future life partner?

9 Jo Rowling often used to daydream. When you daydream, what do you tend to dream about?

10 If you had to write a novel, what would it be about?

11 Have you ever experienced the death of someone close to you?

12 Who do you know, famous or otherwise, who is having a difficult marriage?

13 Jo Rowling was a single mother for quite a long time. Do you know anyone who is a single mother?

14 What do you think the biggest problem for single mothers is?

15 Jo Rowling once worked for Amnesty International. If you could work as a volunteer, what would you do?

16 After completing Deathly Hollows, Jo Rowling wrote graffiti in her hotel room. What do you think of that?

17 Jo Rowling drank alcohol to celebrate completing the Harry Potter series. How do you usually celebrate?

18 Harry Potter's greatest concern in the end is whether his son will fit in at school. What would your greatest concern as a parent be?

19 Jo Rowling had very little money before she became known as a writer. How do you economize?

20 If you were as wealthy as Jo Rowling is today, what would you do?

8 Review

1 Where did Jo Rowling's parents meet?

2 What did Jo Rowling do for a living before she became recognized as a writer?

3 How long did it take Jo Rowling to write the Harry Potter series?

4 Where can you read "J.K. Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (552) on 11th Jan 2007"?

5 What was Harry Potter's last great concern?

6 In one word, what Is "a set of books published by the same company or person which deal with the same subject"?

7 What is one word that means "when social and cultural influences, gradually become similar in all parts of the world"?

8 What word means "important" or "noticeable"?

9 What international organization did J.K. Rowling used to work for as a volunteer?

10 What two good causes is she working for now?


9 Quiz

1 How many books are there in the Harry Potter series?

2 In order, what are the titles of the books in the Harry Potter series?

3 Why did Jo Rowling write much of the first Harry Potter book in a café in Edinburgh, Scotland?

4 How many children does Jo Rowling have?

5 What is Harry Potter's middle name?

6 What is the name of the house elf mentioned in the Chamber of Secrets?

7 Who is Harry Potter's best friend?

8 What shape are Dumbledore's glasses?

9 Who plays Hermione Granger in the movie series?

10 The Harry Potter Alliance raised awareness about genocide in Darfur. In which country is Darfur?


10 Homework

A Read one of the Harry Potter books. Tell your classmates what you liked about it.

B Visit the Harry Potter Alliance website. Write a report about the group's activities.

C Search the Internet to find out about either the role of Amnesty International, or the genocide in Darfur. Make a poster presentation.

D Conduct a class survey about Harry Potter. Present your results to the class.

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