John Ray Grisham Jr. (//; born February 8, 1955) is an American bestselling writer, attorney, politician, and activist best known for his popular legal thrillers. His books have been translated into 42 languages and published worldwide.
John Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University before attending the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1981. He practiced criminal law for about a decade and served in the House of Representatives in Mississippi from January 1984 to September 1990.
His first novel, A Time to Kill, was published in June 1989, four years after he began writing it. As of 2012, his books have sold over 275 million copies worldwide. A Galaxy British Book Awards winner, Grisham is one of only three authors to sell 2 million copies on a first printing.
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 of attorney Mitchell McDeere and his family 10 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 Grisham. His father worked as a construction worker and a cotton farmer, while 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. 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.
Grisham started working for a nursery as a teenager, watering bushes for US$1.00 an hour. He was soon promoted to a fence crew for US$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 a contact of his father's, 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". He decided to quit but stayed when he was offered a raise. He was given another raise after asking to be transferred to toys and then to appliances. A confrontation with a company spy posing as a customer convinced him to leave the store. 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 went to 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 graduated from Mississippi State University in 1977, receiving a BS 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 JD degree.
Grisham practiced law for about a decade and won election as a Democrat in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990, at an annual salary of US$8,000. Grisham represented the seventh district, which included DeSoto County. By his second term at 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 site 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 US$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", Grisham 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 story of an ambitious young attorney "lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what it appeared." 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 also 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."
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 to be set there include The Last Juror, The Summons, The Chamber, 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.
The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi, and a home near Charlottesville, Virginia. They also own a home in Destin, Florida. In 2008, he and his wife bought a condominium at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
He has 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.
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, 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 argues 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. He also has appeared on Dateline NBC, Bill Moyers Journal on PBS, and other programs. He wrote for The New York Times in 2013 about an unjustly held prisoner at Guantanamo. Grisham opposes the death penalty – an opposition very strongly manifested in the plot of The Confession.
Grisham 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 be 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 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 close friend of Jake Brigance and an important supporting character in A Time to Kill, Wilbanks also appears alongside Harry Rex Vonner in The Last Juror and opposite both Brigance and Vonner in Sycamore Row. In the A Time to Kill film Wilbanks is played by Donald Sutherland.
A key supporting character in A Time to Kill and a close friend of Jake Brigance, also appearing opposite Brigance and Lucien Wilbanks in Sycamore Row. He also earlier appears alongside Wilbanks alone in The Last Juror and by himself as a minor character in The Summons and in the short story Fish Files. In the film version of A Time to Kill Vonner is played by Oliver Platt.
Head of the CIA in The Broker and The Brethren, portrayed as a physically frail but mentally alert manipulator who resorts to extralegal means to protect what he considers to be the national interest.
The middle school aged only child of two lawyers, Theodore "Theo" Boone has a passion for the law and often uses his legal knowledge to help his schoolmates and others in his community. He even has a "practice" of his own, representing people in his local Animal Court. He appears as the main protagonist in the young adult Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer series.
A complete listing of works by John Grisham
† Denotes books not in the legal genre
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