John Grisham in 1990
|Born||John Ray Grisham Jr.|
February 8, 1955
Jonesboro, Arkansas, U.S.
|Education||Mississippi State University (BS)|
University of Mississippi School of Law (JD)
Renee Grisham (m. 1981)
|Children||Shea Grisham (born 1986)|
Ty Grisham (born 1983)
|Member of the Wisconsin House of Representatives|
from the 7th district
John Ray Grisham Jr. (; born February 8, 1955) is an American novelist, attorney, politician, and activist, best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books have been translated into 42 languages and published worldwide.
Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University and received a J.D. degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981. He practiced criminal law for about a decade and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from January 1984 to September 1990.
Grisham's first bestseller, The Firm, sold more than seven million copies. The book was adapted into a 1993 feature film of the same name, starring Tom Cruise, and a 2012 TV series which continues the story ten years after the events of the film and novel.
Grisham, the second of five siblings, was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Wanda (née Skidmore) and John Ray Grisham. His father worked as a construction worker and a cotton farmer, and his mother was a homemaker. When Grisham was four years old, his family settled in Southaven, Mississippi.
As a child, he wanted to be a baseball player. In A Painted House, a novel with strong autobiographical elements, the protagonist - a seven-year old farmer boy - manifests a strong wish to become a baseball player. As noted in the forward to Calico Joe, Grisham gave up playing baseball at the age of 18, after a game in which a hostile pitcher aimed a beanball at him, and narrowly missed doing the young Grisham grave harm.
Grisham has been a Christian since he was eight years old, and has described his conversion to Christianity as "the most important event" in his life. After leaving law school, he participated in some missionary work in Brazil, under the First Baptist Church of Oxford.
Although Grisham's parents lacked formal education, his mother encouraged him to read and prepare for college. He drew on his childhood experiences for his novel A Painted House. Grisham started working for a plant nursery as a teenager, watering bushes for $1.00 an hour. He was soon promoted to a fence crew for $1.50 an hour. He wrote about the job: "there was no future in it". At 16, Grisham took a job with a plumbing contractor but says he "never drew inspiration from that miserable work".
Through one of his father's contacts, he managed to find work on a highway asphalt crew in Mississippi at age 17. It was during this time that an unfortunate incident got him "serious" about college. A fight with gunfire broke out among the crew causing Grisham to run to a nearby restroom to find safety. He did not come out until after the police had detained the perpetrators. He hitchhiked home and started thinking about college. His next work was in retail, as a salesclerk in a department store men's underwear section, which he described as "humiliating". By this time, Grisham was halfway through college. Planning to become a tax lawyer, he was soon overcome by "the complexity and lunacy" of it. He decided to return to his hometown as a trial lawyer.
He attended the Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi and later attended Delta State University in Cleveland. Grisham drifted so much that he changed colleges three times before completing a degree. He eventually graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977, receiving a B.S. degree in accounting. He later enrolled in the University of Mississippi School of Law to become a tax lawyer, but his interest shifted to general civil litigation. He graduated in 1981 with a J.D. degree.
Grisham represented the seventh district, which included DeSoto County. By his second term in the Mississippi state legislature, he was the vice-chairman of the Apportionment and Elections Committee and a member of several other committees.
Grisham's writing career blossomed with the success of his second book, The Firm, and he gave up practicing law, except for returning briefly in 1996 to fight for the family of a railroad worker who was killed on the job. His official website states: "He was honoring a commitment made before he had retired from the law to become a full-time writer. Grisham successfully argued his clients' case, earning them a jury award of $683,500 -- the biggest verdict of his career."
Grisham said the big case came in 1984, but it was not his case. As he was hanging around the court, he overheard a 12-year-old girl telling the jury what had happened to her. Her story intrigued Grisham, and he began watching the trial. He saw how the members of the jury cried as she told them about having been raped and beaten. It was then, Grisham later wrote in The New York Times, that a story was born.
Musing over "what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants", took three years to complete his first book, A Time to Kill. Finding a publisher was not easy. The book was rejected by 28 publishers before Wynwood Press, an unknown publisher, agreed to give it a modest 5,000-copy printing. It was published in June 1989.
The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on his second novel, The Firm. The Firm remained on The New York Times' bestseller list for 47 weeks, and became the bestselling novel of 1991.
Beginning with A Painted House in 2001, Grisham broadened his focus from law to the more general rural South but continued to write legal thrillers. He has written sports fiction and comedy fiction. He wrote the original screenplay for and produced the 2004 baseball movie Mickey, which starred Harry Connick Jr.
In 2010, Grisham started writing a series of legal thrillers for children aged 9 to 12 years. It features Theodore Boone, a 13-year-old who gives his classmates legal advice ranging from rescuing impounded dogs to helping their parents prevent their house from being repossessed. He said, "I'm hoping primarily to entertain and interest kids, but at the same time I'm quietly hoping that the books will inform them, in a subtle way, about law."
He also stated that it was his daughter, Shea, who inspired him to write the Theodore Boone series. "My daughter Shea is a teacher in North Carolina and when she got her fifth grade students to read the book, three or four of them came up afterwards and said they'd like to go into the legal profession."
In 2017, Grisham released two legal thrillers. Camino Island was published on June 6, 2017.The Rooster Bar, published on October 24, 2017, was called his most original work yet, in The News Herald.
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Several of Grisham's legal thrillers are set in the fictional town of Clanton, Mississippi, in the equally fictional Ford County, a northwest Mississippi town still deeply divided by racism. The first novel set in Clanton was A Time to Kill.
Other stories set there include The Last Juror, The Summons, The Chamber, The Reckoning and Sycamore Row. The stories in the collection Ford County are also set in and around Clanton. Other Grisham novels have non-fictional Southern settings, for example The Runaway Jury and The Partner, are both set in Biloxi, and large portions of The Pelican Brief in New Orleans.
A Painted House is set in and around the town of Black Oak, Arkansas, where Grisham spent some of his childhood.
The family splits their time among their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi, a home in Destin, Florida and a condominium at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, purchased in 2008.
As a Baptist, he advocates the separation of church and state. He once said, "I have some very deep religious convictions that I keep to myself, and when I see people using them for political gain it really irritates me."
Grisham has a lifelong passion for baseball demonstrated partly by his support of Little League activities in both Oxford and in Charlottesville. In 1996, Grisham built a $3.8 million youth baseball complex.
As he notes in the forward to Calico Joe, Grisham himself stopped playing baseball after a ball thrown by a pitcher nearly caused him a serious injury. This experience left Grisham with an abiding dislike of pitchers.
He remains a fan of Mississippi State University (MSU)'s baseball team and wrote about his ties to the university and the Left Field Lounge in the introduction for the book Dudy Noble Field: A Celebration of MSU Baseball.
Since moving to the Charlottesville area, Grisham has become a supporter of Virginia Cavaliers athletics and is regularly seen sitting courtside at basketball games. Grisham also contributed to a $1.2 million donation to the Cavalier baseball team in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was used in the 2002 renovation of Davenport Field.
Grisham is a member of the board of directors of the Innocence Project, which campaigns to free and exonerate unjustly convicted people on the basis of DNA evidence. The Innocence Project contends that wrongful convictions are not isolated or rare events but instead arise from systemic defects. Grisham has testified before Congress on behalf of the Innocence Project.
Grisham opposes capital punishment, a position very strongly manifested in the plot of The Confession. He believes that prison rates in the United States are excessive, and the justice system is "locking up far too many people". Citing examples including "black teenagers on minor drugs charges" to "those who had viewed child porn online", he controversially added that he believed not all viewers of child pornography are necessarily pedophiles. After hearing from numerous people against this position, he later recanted this statement in a Facebook post.
The Mississippi State University Libraries, Manuscript Division, maintains the John Grisham Room, an archive containing materials generated during the author's tenure as Mississippi State Representative and relating to his writings. In 2012, the Law Library at the University of Mississippi School of Law was renamed in his honor. It had been named for more than a decade after the late Senator James Eastland.
In 2015, Grisham, along with about 60 others, signed a letter published in the Clarion-Ledger urging that an inset within the flag of Mississippi containing a Confederate flag be removed. He co-authored the letter with author Greg Iles; the pair contacted various public figures from Mississippi for support.
A complete listing of works by John Grisham:
+ Denotes stories not in the legal genre
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