John Grisham

John Ray Grisham Jr. (/ˈɡrɪʃəm/; born February 8, 1955)[2][3] 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.

John Grisham
John Grisham in 2009
BornJohn Ray Grisham Jr.
(1955-02-08) February 8, 1955
Jonesboro, Arkansas, U.S.
EducationMississippi State University (BS)
University of Mississippi School of Law (JD)
GenresLegal thriller
Crime fiction
Southern Gothic
Renee Grisham (m. 1981)
ChildrenShea Grisham (born 1986)[1]
Ty Grisham (born 1983)[1]
Member of the Mississippi House of Representatives
from the 7th district
In office
Personal details
Political partyDemocratic

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.[4]

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.[5] A Galaxy British Book Awards winner, Grisham is one of only three authors to sell two million copies on a first printing, the other two being Tom Clancy[6] and J. K. Rowling.[7]

Grisham's first bestseller, The Firm, sold more than seven million copies.[2] 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.[8] Eight of his other novels have also been adapted into films: The Chamber, The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, Skipping Christmas, and A Time to Kill.[9] Grisham's latest book (which is also his 40th published novel), The Guardians, explores the story of Cullen Post, a defense attorney and Episcopal priest, who works to overturn a wrongful conviction.[10]

Early life

Grisham, the second of five siblings, was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to Wanda (née Skidmore) and John Ray Grisham.[4] His father worked as a construction worker and a cotton farmer, and his mother was a homemaker.[11] When Grisham was four years old, his family settled in Southaven, Mississippi.[4]

As a child, he wanted to be a baseball player.[9] 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 foreword 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.[12]

Although Grisham's parents lacked formal education, his mother encouraged him to read and prepare for college.[2] He drew on his childhood experiences for his novel A Painted House.[4] 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.[13]

He attended the Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Mississippi and later attended Delta State University in Cleveland.[4] Grisham drifted so much that he changed colleges three times before completing a degree.[2] 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.[4]


Law and politics

Grisham practiced law for about a decade and won election as a Democrat to the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1984 to 1990, at an annual salary of $8,000.[4][14]

Grisham represented the seventh district, which included DeSoto County.[15] 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.[2]

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.[2] 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."[11]

Writing 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.[13]

Musing over "what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants",[11] 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.[2][16]

The day after Grisham completed A Time to Kill, he began work on his second novel, The Firm. [11] The Firm remained on The New York Times' bestseller list for 47 weeks,[2] and became the bestselling novel of 1991.[17]

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 2005, Grisham received the Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, which is presented annually by the Tulsa Library Trust.[18]

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."[19]

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."[19]

In an October 2006 interview on the Charlie Rose show, Grisham stated that he usually takes only six months to write a book, and his favorite author is John le Carré.[20]

In 2017, Grisham released two legal thrillers. Camino Island was published on June 6, 2017.[21] The Rooster Bar, published on October 24, 2017, was called his most original work yet, in The News Herald.[22]

Southern settings

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.

Personal life


Grisham married Renee Jones on May 8, 1981. The couple have two children together: Shea and Ty.[4] Ty played college baseball for the University of Virginia.[23]

Real estate holdings

The family splits their time among their Victorian home on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi,[11] a home in Destin, Florida[24] and a condominium at McCorkle Place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, purchased in 2008.[25]


As a Baptist, he advocates the separation of church and state.[26] 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."[27] Later in life, Grisham converted to The Presbyterian Church. He cited a preference for a more highly educated clergy and a desire for a “more dignified” style of worship. [28]


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.[29]

As he notes in the foreword 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.[30] 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.[31]

Political activism

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.[32] 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.[33]

Grisham has appeared on Dateline NBC,[34] Bill Moyers Journal on PBS,[35] and other programs. He wrote for The New York Times in 2013 about an unjustly held prisoner at Guantanamo.[36]

Grisham opposes capital punishment, a position very strongly manifested in the plot of The Confession.[37][38][39][40] 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.[41][42][43]

The Mississippi State University Libraries, Manuscript Division, maintains the John Grisham Room,[44] an archive containing materials generated during the author's tenure as Mississippi State Representative and relating to his writings.[45] 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.[46] He co-authored the letter with author Greg Iles; the pair contacted various public figures from Mississippi for support.[47]

Awards and honors


A complete listing of works by John Grisham:[51]

Denotes stories not in the legal genre


Short stories



Feature films


See also


  1. "John Grisham Biography". Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  2. "John Grisham Biography and Interview". American Academy of Achievement.
  3. "Monitor". Entertainment Weekly (1245): 22. February 8, 2013.
  4. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.; retrieved December 9, 2011.
  5. "John Grisham: E-Books will be half of my sales". CBS News. April 11, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  6. "John Grisham Wins Galaxy Award", (March 29, 2007); retrieved 2011-12-09.
  7. Motoko, Rich (July 22, 2007). "Record First-Day Sales for Last 'Harry Potter' Book". The New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2018.
  8. "About 'The Firm'". Retrieved January 22, 2012.
  9. "John Grisham by Mark Flanagan",; retrieved December 9, 2011.
  10. Corrigan, Maureen (October 29, 2019). "Another year, another terrific novel from John Grisham". The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  11. John Grisham biography,; retrieved December 9, 2011.
  12. Norton, Will Jr. (October 3, 1994). "CONVERSATIONS: Why John Grisham Teaches Sunday School", Christianity Today. Vol. 38, No. 11
  13. Grisham, John (September 6, 2010). "Boxers, Briefs and Books", The New York Times; accessed November 2, 2017.
  14. Miller, Erin Collazo Biography of John Grisham, (February 8, 1955); retrieved 2011-12-09.
  15. Mississippi Official and Statistical Register. Secretary of State. 1989. p. 162.
  16. Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture; retrieved December 9, 2011.
  17. "Bestseller Books of the 1990s". Retrieved December 1, 2007.
  18. Library, Tulsa City-County. "Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award". Retrieved February 2, 2018.
  19. Middleton, Christopher (May 28, 2010). "Exclusive: best-selling author John Grisham explains why he's courting children with his latest legal thriller". London: Retrieved July 16, 2012.
  20. Rose, Charlie (October 13, 2006). "An hour with author John Grisham". Charlie Rose. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013.
  21. Maslin, Janet (May 31, 2017). "Plot Twist! John Grisham's New Thriller Is Positively Lawyerless". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  22. Media, John O'Neill For Digital First. "John Grisham pens another exciting legal drama with 'The Rooster Bar'". News-Herald. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
  23. Viera, Mark (June 5, 2010). "Virginia Baseball Team Back in Business". The New York Times. Retrieved December 31, 2017.
  24. Murray, Jocelyn. "Top 10 Best Beaches on the Gulf Coast USA". Tots and Travel. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  25. Gibson, Dale (July 7, 2008). "John Grisham and wife buy home in Chapel Hill". Triangle Business Journal. Retrieved September 16, 2009.
  26. "Novelist John Grisham Says Church Politicking Hurts Baptist Image". Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
  27. Walden, Celia (January 26, 2015).
  28. "John Grisham: My sex scenes make my wife laugh out loud", The Telegraph; retrieved July 16, 2016.
  29. "Diamond Solitarie". May 1, 2000. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  30. "The Night In Sports (Feb. 9)".
  31. Viera, Mark (June 5, 2010). "Virginia Baseball Team Back in Business" via
  32. "About Us: Board of Directors". The Innocence Project. Archived from the original on February 17, 2007. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  33. "Innocence Blog: John Grisham Calls for Forensic Improvement". December 8, 2011. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  34. "Innocence Blog: John Grisham discusses wrongful convictions tonight on Dateline NBC". Innocenceproject. May 22, 2007. Archived from the original on July 6, 2010. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  35. "Bill Moyers Journal". PBS. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
  36. Grisham, John (August 10, 2013). "After Guantánamo, Another Injustice". The New York Times.
  37. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 12, 2016. Retrieved February 21, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  38. "John Grisham on Grappling with Race, the Death Penalty; and Lawyers 'Polluting Their Own Profession'".
  39. Crawford, Melanie L. "A Losing Battle With The 'Machinery Of Death': The Flaws Of Virginia's Death Penalty Laws And Clemency Process Highlighted By The Fate Of Teresa Lewis." Widener Law Review 18.1 (2012): pp. 71–98. Academic Search Complete.
  40. John Grisham (September 12, 2010). "Why is Teresa Lewis on Death Row?", The Washington Post, pg. B-5
  41. Foster, Peter (October 15, 2014). "John Grisham: men who watch child porn are not all paedophiles". The Telegraph. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  42. Robehmed, Natalie. "Millionaire Author John Grisham Says Not All Men Who Watch Child Porn Are Pedophiles".
  43. "John Grisham apologizes for child pornography comments". CBS News.
  44. "The John Grisham Room » Mississippi State University Libraries".
  45. "John Grisham Room now open in library". Mississippi State University. Retrieved December 1, 2007.
  46. "John Grisham, Morgan Freeman, others call for change to Mississippi flag". CNN. August 15, 2015. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  47. "John Grisham: Why Mississippi Will Pull Down the Confederate Flag". Time magazine. August 16, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2015.
  48. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  49. "John Grisham Wins First Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction".
  50. Law, University of Alabama School of. "Archive 2014 - The University of Alabama - School of Law". Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  51. "John Grisham books".
  52. John Grisham Movies. Retrieved on December 9, 2011.
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