John Grisham Biography
Long before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller,
working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi law practice,
squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to
work on his hobby -- writing his first novel.
Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and
a homemaker, John Grisham as a child dreamed of being a professional baseball
player. Realizing he didn't have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted
gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After
graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for
nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal
injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives
and served until 1990.
One day at the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing
testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel
exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her
assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing
time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill
and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was
eventually bought by Wynwood press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and
published it in June 1988.
That might have put an end to Grisham's hobby. However, he had already begun
his next book, and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career
-- and spark one of publishing's greatest success stories. The day after Grisham
completed A Time to Kill, he began work on another novel, the story of a
hotshot young attorney lured to an apparently perfect law firm that was not what
it appeared. When he sold the film rights to The Firm to Paramount
Pictures for $600,000, Grisham suddenly became a hot property among publishers,
and book rights were bought by Doubleday. Spending 47 weeks on The New York
Times bestseller list, The Firm became the bestselling novel of 1991.
The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New
York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number
one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller.
Grisham's success even renewed interest in A Time to Kill, which was
republished in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Dell. This time
around, it was a bestseller.
Since first publishing A Time to Kill in 1988, Grisham has written one
novel a year (his other books are The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The
Runaway Jury, The Partner, and The Street Lawyer), and all of
them have become bestsellers, leading Publishers Weekly to declare him
"the bestselling novelist of the 90s" in a January 1998 profile. There
are currently over 60 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have
been translated into 29 languages. Six of his novels have been turned into films
(The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, and
The Chamber), as was an original screenplay, The
Gingerbread Man. The Innocent Man (October 2006) marked his first foray into non-fiction. The Associate was published in January 2009.
Grisham lives with his wife Renee and their two children Ty and Shea. The
family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm in Mississippi
and a plantation near Charlottesville, VA.
Grisham took time off from writing for several months in 1996 to return,
after a five-year hiatus, to the courtroom. He was honoring a commitment made
before he had retired from the law to become a full-time writer: representing
the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars.
Preparing his case with the same passion and dedication as his books'
protagonists, Grisham successfully argued his clients' case, earning them a jury
award of $683,500 -- the biggest verdict of his career.
When he's not writing, Grisham devotes time to charitable causes, including
taking mission trips with his church group. He also keeps up with his greatest
passion: baseball. The man who dreamed of being a professional baseball player
now serves as the local Little League commissioner. The six ballfields he built
on his property have played host to over 350 kids on 26 Little League teams.
This biography was last updated on 12/28/2008.
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