John Grisham, American contemporary novelist

Posted: November 7, 2007 in American Author, John Grisham

The second oldest of five siblings was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Southern Baptist parents of modest means. His father worked as a construction worker and a cotton farmer; his mother was a homemaker.[1] After moving frequently, the family settled in 1967 in the town of Southaven in De Soto County, Mississippi, where Grisham graduated from Southaven High School. He played as a quarterback for the school football team. Unlike the main character in his 2003 novel, Bleachers (novel), he wasn’t an All-American football player. Encouraged by his mother, the young Grisham was an avid reader, and was especially influenced by the work of John Steinbeck whose clarity he admired.

In 1977, Grisham received a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Mississippi State University. While studying at MSU, the author began to keep a journal, a practice that would later assist in his creative endeavors. Grisham tried out for the baseball team at Delta State University, but was cut by the coach, who was the former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dave Ferriss. He earned his J.D. degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981. During law school, Grisham switched interests from tax law to criminal and general civil litigation. Upon graduation, he entered a small-town general law practice for nearly a decade in Southaven, where he focused on criminal law and civil law representing a broad spectrum of clients. As a young attorney, he spent much of his time in court proceedings.

In 1983, he was elected as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives, where he served until 1990. During his time as a legislator, he continued his private law practice in Southaven. He has donated over $100,000 to Democratic Party candidates. In September 2007, Grisham appeared with Hillary Rodham Clinton, his choice for U.S. President in 2008, and former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, whom Grisham supports for the U.S. Senate being vacated by Republican John Warner (no relation). Grisham himself had considered challenging former GOP U.S. Senator George Allen, Jr., in the 2006 election in which Allen was narrowly defeated by the Democrat James Webb.[2]

In 1984 at the De Soto County courthouse in Hernando, Grisham witnessed the harrowing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim. [1] In his spare time, Grisham began work on his first novel, which explored what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants. He spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, the manuscript eventually was bought by Wynwood Press, which gave it a modest 5,000-copy printing and published it in June 1988.[1]

The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on another novel, the story of a young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared. That second book, The Firm became the 7th bestselling novel of 1991. [3] Grisham then went on to produce at least one work a year, most of them widely popular bestsellers. He is the only person to author a number one bestselling novel of the year for seven consecutive years (1994 – 2000).

Beginning with A Painted House in 2001, the author broadened his focus from law to the more general rural south, all the while continuing to pen his legal thrillers.

Publishers Weekly declared Grisham “the bestselling novelist of the 90s,” selling a total of 60,742,289 copies. He is also one of only a few authors to sell two million copies on a first printing, others include Tom Clancy and J.K. Rowling.[2]. Grisham’s 1992 novel The Pelican Brief sold 11,232,480 copies in the United States alone.

Grisham returned briefly to the courtroom in 1996 after a five-year hiatus. He was honoring a commitment he made before he retired from law; he represented the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. Grisham successfully argued his clients’ case, earning them a jury award of $683,500 — the biggest verdict of his career. Another tie to the legal community that he continues to hold is his seat on the Board of Directors for the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating the innocent through DNA testing after they have been convicted.

On September 28, 2007, Grisham was named in a civil suit in the US District Court, claiming Grisham libeled Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, District Attorney Bill Peterson and Gary Rogers, a former Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent. Peterson and Rogers claim that Grisham, along with two other authors, conspired to defame their character through their books. The suit is based on Grisham’s sole non-fiction effort, The Innocent Man, a book about the murder investigation of a cocktail waitress in Ada, Oklahoma, and the exoneration by DNA evidence of Ron Williamson and Dennis Fritz more than 12 years later. [4]

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.

Grisham’s lifelong passion for baseball is evident in his novel A Painted House and in his support of Little League activities in both Oxford, Mississippi and Charlottesville, Virginia. He wrote the original screenplay for and produced the baseball movie Mickey, starring Harry Connick, Jr.. The movie was released on DVD in April 2004. [5] He remains a fan of Mississippi State University’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.”

Grisham is also well known within the literary community for his efforts to support the continuing literary tradition of his native South. Grisham has endowed scholarships and writer’s residencies in the University of Mississippi’s English Department and Graduate Creative Writing Program, and was the founding publisher of the Oxford American, a magazine devoted to literary writing and famous for its annual music issue, copies of which include a compilation CD featuring contemporary and classic Southern musicians in genres ranging from blues and gospel to country-western and alternative rock.

In an October 2006 interview on the Charlie Rose talk show, Grisham stated that he usually takes only six months to write a book and that his favorite author was John le Carré.

Grisham describes himself as a “moderate Baptist,” and he has performed mission service for his church, notably in Brazil. He lives with his wife, Renée, (née Jones) and their two children, Ty and Shea. The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi, and a farm near Charlottesville, Virginia.

* A Time to Kill (1989), ISBN 0-922066-03-5
* The Firm (1991), ISBN 0-385-41634-2
* The Pelican Brief (1992), ISBN 0-385-42198-2
* The Client (1993), ISBN 0-385-42471-X
* The Chamber (1994), ISBN 0-385-42472-8
* The Rainmaker (1995), ISBN 0-385-42473-6
* The Runaway Jury (1996), ISBN 0-385-47294-3
* The Partner (1997), ISBN 0-385-47295-1
* The Street Lawyer (1998), ISBN 0-385-49099-2
* The Testament (1999), ISBN 0-385-49380-0
* The Brethren (2000), ISBN 0-385-49748-2
* A Painted House (2001), ISBN 0-385-47295-1
* Skipping Christmas (2001), ISBN 0-385-50624-4
* The Summons (2002), ISBN 0-385-50382-2
* The King of Torts (2003), ISBN 0-385-50804-2
* Bleachers (2003), ISBN 0-385-51161-2
* The Last Juror (2004), ISBN 0-385-51043-8
* The Broker (2005), ISBN 0-385-51045-4
* Playing for Pizza (2007) ISBN 0-385-52500-1
* The Appeal (January, 2008)


* The Innocent Man (2006), ISBN 0-385-51723-8′


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