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A Woman of Magic
Joanne Rowling, (she has no middle name, the "K" is a nomme de plume) is one of the wealthiest women in the world, the first person to ever become a billionaire from writing books. Her work has spawned a multibillion dollar empire. She was also, at one time, a victim of domestic violence.
But I'm not writing this to be a biography of a "successful person", someone that "pulled themselves up by their bootstraps". I'm writing to tell you about the politics of a most remarkable woman. You see, despite the incredible wealth she has created solely from the use of her imagination and unlike most people in her position; the ones with money that in some ways simply fell into their hands from being "clever", Joanne Rowling is a Socialist.
The roots of that Socialism go back all the way to when she was in college at Exeter and her great aunt gave her a book to read by another remarkable woman; "Hons and Rebels" (published in the US as "Daughters and Rebels") by Jessica Mitford. She was so impressed with Mitford's writing and came to love her so much that her first and only daughter was named for her.
But her commitment to Socialism didn't gel and become hardened until her husband beat her up and threw her out of their apartment in Porto,Portugal. With no where else to go, she took her months old baby daughter and fled to Edinburgh, a victim of domestic abuse, to the one person left in the world she felt cared about her; her sister.
Once in Edinburgh, a single woman with a tiny infant and no way to support herself, she applied for the dole, the British equivalent of welfare. Once on the dole, she couldn't find a job to support herself and her daughter and also pay for daycare. She had nothing and, in her own mind, was nothing, to the point that she slipped into depression and actually started to have suicidal thoughts.After a conversation with her sister, she realized what she wanted to do, more than anything, was to write.
Every day she would walk the streets of Edinburgh with the baby in her stroller. Usually, it was aimless; simply an exercise to help the baby go to sleep. Then she started taking pads of paper with her and with cheap Bic style pens, she began writing the first Harry Potter book, in long hand, sitting in coffee shops with her baby asleep beside her. Being out was a lot better than sitting alone in her one room studio, bed sitter with the walls closing in around her. Eventually she found a cheap, used manual typewriter and started transferring everything she wrote. When the book was done, she started shipping it to agent after agent. Most didn't even bother to read it. When, on the thirteenth try, she found one that accepted it, he told her, in what would become a bit of irony,"Don't give up your day job. Children's books don't sell well." The rest is pretty much history.
But it was in those cold, damp and dark days in Edinburgh that her commitment to Socialism hardened and became a solid thing. Fame opened doors to her and through that she met and became close friends with Sarah Brown, the wife of Labour leader Gordon Brown.
In 2008 she gave one million pounds to the Labour Party with this statement: "I believe that poor and vulnerable families will fare much better under the Labour Party than they would under a Cameron-led Conservative Party. Gordon Brown has consistently prioritised and introduced measures that will save as many children as possible from a life lacking in opportunity or choice. The Labour government has reversed the long-term trend in child poverty, and is one of the leading EU countries in combating child poverty. David Cameron's promise of tax perks for the married, on the other hand, is reminiscent of the Conservative government I experienced as a lone parent. It sends the message that the Conservatives still believe a childless, dual-income, but married couple is more deserving of a financial pat on the head than those struggling, as I once was, to keep their families afloat in difficult times."
In 2000, Rowling established the Volant Trust, named for her mother, Mary Volant Rowling. It has an annual budget of 5.1 million pounds (over 8 million US dollars) and is used to fund organizations that support children in poverty and single parents.
Like most wealthy people, she puts her money where her heart is. But unlike most, her heart isn't in making more money.
ETA: I redrafted and expanded this post into a full article. It was picked up and published as a guest post by Jennifer Dowling Liles at her political blog. You can see the expanded article at: http://walkingupstream.blogspot.com/2011/07/guest-post-woman-of-magic-personal.html