J.K. Rowling's story is well-known by now: A British woman living on welfare after a run of hardships, including her mother's death and the end of her marriage, takes a train and thinks of a story about a boy wizard. Thus, Harry Potter was born, and the rest is quite literally history.
Seven books and eight films in the Potter franchise later, however, Joanne Rowling remains a cultural force. She's written new books like The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo's Calling, the latter under a pseudonym, and launched the immersive Potter fan site, Pottermore. Yet perhaps most impressive has been Rowling's continued work in the worlds of activism and charity.
Harry Potter was a treasure. It's what's come afterward that's truly magical.
She's promoted LGBTQ visibility. "Dumbledore is gay." Eight years ago, Rowling stunned fans with three simple words. They suddenly made one of the biggest characters in Harry Potter one of the few queer characters in children's literature.
It wasn't just a verbal swish of her wand, either. In the years since, Rowling has continued to promote and support the headmaster's sexual orientation. When a fan told the author they couldn't "see him in that way," her response was simply perfect: "Maybe because gay people just look like... people?"
She gave up her billionaire status through her charitable donations. Rowling became the first female novelist to hit $1 billion thanks to her Harry Potter fortune — and yet she quickly knocked herself out of the coveted bracket. Thanks to giving $160 million to charity (and, it must be noted, taxes), she dropped off the list in 2012.
"You have a moral responsibility when you've been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently," she once said, according to Mother Nature Network. This likely comes from her pre-Harry Potter days of living on state benefits. Now that she has enough to affect change, she's putting her funds to good use.
She's worked for orphans worldwide. A huge part of her charity work has focused on eliminating the institutionalization of parentless children in the world. Her organization Lumos, named for an illumination spell in Harry Potter and of which she is lifetime president, aims to end this pandemic by 2050.
In an op-ed she wrote for the Guardian, Rowling explained why orphanages are such an important cause for her:
It was a black-and-white photograph in a newspaper. It showed a small boy, locked in a caged bed in a residential institution. His hands clutched what appeared to be chicken wire containing him, and his expression was agonised.
Lumos exists, Rowling said, because of that photograph. "Part of our work in Lumos is to shed light on the lives of those millions of children separated from their families for reasons of poverty, disability and discrimination," she wrote. "Cut off from society, institutionalised children return to the world with their chances of a happy, healthy life greatly impaired."
The organization works in countries like Bulgaria and the Czech Republic to great effect. In the former, institutionalization has decreased by 54% since Lumos began work. There's more to be done, but Rowling remains committed.
Harry Potter was a treasure, but what came after was truly magical.
That's what's truly incredible about Rowling: She didn't let the end of Harry Potter's story be the end of her own. She continues to challenge herself by writing new stories, even under new noms de plume. Most importantly, she has never stopped giving back. For a Muggle, she's truly magical.