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John Grisham

Biography: John Grisham
Best-Selling Author

John Grisham Date of birth: February 8, 1955

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John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas. His father, a cotton farmer and itinerant construction worker moved the family frequently, from town to town throughout the Deep South, settling in Southaven, Mississippi in 1967. Although his parents lacked formal education, his mother encouraged him to read and insisted that he prepare himself for college.

By his own account, he had no interest in writing until after he embarked on his professional career. For his first two years in college, Grisham drifted. He attended three different colleges before earning a degree. After abandoning a youthful dream of a professional baseball career, he settled down to study accounting and prepare for a career as a tax lawyer. While in law school, his interest shifted from tax law to criminal law and litigation. After graduating from the University of Mississippi law school, he returned to Southaven and established a small private legal practice. He was elected the to Mississippi House of Representatives in 1983. By his second term he held the vice chairmanship of the Apportionment and Elections Committee, as well as memberships on the Insurance, Judiciary "A", and Military Affairs Committee.

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In Mississippi, attorneys in private practice are sometimes called upon to appear as public defenders for indigent clients. In this way, Grisham received invaluable experience of the criminal justice system. Inspired by a case he observed in a Mississippi courthouse, Grisham decided to write a novel. For years, he arrived at his office at five o'clock in the morning, six days a week, to work on his first book, A Time To Kill. His manuscript was rejected by 28 publishers before he found an unknown publisher who was willing to print a short run. Without the benefit of a major publisher's marketing apparatus, the novice author went directly to booksellers, encouraging them to stock his book. Although A Time to Kill sold a disappointing 5,000 copies, Grisham had already begun work on a second novel The Firm. At the same time, bored with the routine of the state capital and eager to spend more time with his family, he decided not to seek re-election to the state legislature. He closed his office in Southaven and moved his family to Oxford, Mississippi, hoping to concentrate on his writing.

At age 36, his career as a novelist bloomed when movie rights to The Firm were sold for a hefty price, even before the book had found a publisher. The Firm sold more than seven million copies and spent 47 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. With the success of The Firm, John Grisham finally gave up his law practice to write full time. He has returned to the practice of law on only one occasion since, in 1996, to win a settlement for the family of a railroad worker killed on the job. Meanwhile he has continued to write enormously successful legal thrillers at he rate of nearly one a year. As of this writing, seven of his books -- The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, The Summons and The Broker -- were the bestselling novels of their respective years.

Beginning in 2001, Grisham has occasionally departed from the format of the legal thriller to write works of fiction on other subjects, particularly baseball and life in the rural South. The first of these was A Painted House, followed by Skipping Christmas, Bleachers and Playing for Pizza. His 2009 book of short stories, Ford County, returned to the setting of his first novel. No fewer than ten of Grisham's tales have been adapted for film and television, including The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Rainmaker and the original screenplayThe Gingerbread Man. The film version of Skipping Christmas was re-titled A Christmas With the Kranks.

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Today, John Grisham, his wife, and their two children keep homes in Oxford, Mississippi and near Charlottesville, Virginia. Apart from his writing, Grisham is a generous supporter of Little League teams in Oxford and Charlottesville and has endowed writing scholarship at the University of Mississippi. He is also a board member of the Innocence Project, an organization that promotes the use of DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongly convicted. Grisham's one nonfiction book to date, The Innocent Man (2006), recounted the real-life case of Ron Williamson, a former professional baseball player sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. Williamson was eventually released, but his case exposed glaring inadequacies in the criminal justice system. Despite these interests and activities, Grisham has not stopped producing bestselling novels, such as The Associate and The Confession, or his 2011 comic novel The Litigators.

This page last revised on Nov 23, 2011 15:19 EST