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John Grisham: Bio, Books & Short Stories

Instructor: Jenn Baudreau

Jenn has taught high school English literature and writing; her masters degree is in Teaching & Learning from Colorado State University.

What do an aspiring professional baseball player, a lawyer fighting for clients he believes in, and a bestselling American author all have in common? They're all the same person: John Grisham! Read on to learn more about this fascinating man's life and the many impressive things he's achieved.

Early Life

John Grisham grew up in the Deep South. He was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas on February 8, 1955, but he traveled throughout the South as child because his father was a cotton farmer and traveling construction worker. While they traveled from town to town, they'd stop at the local libraries and check out books. His mother didn't believe in television, but she loved to read and encouraged her son to do it as well. While Grisham enjoyed reading as a kid, he never thought about writing. His dream was to play professional baseball.

His parents insisted he go to college, however. So he drifted half-heartedly through three different schools, spending more time partying than studying, dreaming of playing ball, until one day he had an epiphany. He realized that he wasn't good enough at baseball to play professionally, and that it was 'time to grow up.' One thing Grisham doesn't lack is a work ethic, so once he realized what he needed to do, he got to it. He got a degree in accounting and then pursued law. Once he graduated in 1981, he opened his own legal practice. His specialization was personal injury litigation and criminal defense. Litigation is the process of taking legal action, or bringing a case to court. A couple years later, in 1983, Grisham was also elected to the state House of Representatives.

Grisham's Law Practice

As a lawyer, Grisham's passion was representing people who didn't necessarily have much money, but who needed help. In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, he said:

I represented real people, poor people, who often couldn't afford to pay a lawyer, but still had problems. Directly across the street from my office were insurance companies, banks and big corporations. It was a very clear line between us, and I learned very quickly who my friends were.

While Grisham liked helping people, he didn't actually enjoy the daily grind of being a lawyer. And so one day when his imagination led him to question what would happen if the father of one of the victims he knew from the courtroom killed her attackers, he decided to explore the scenario by writing a book about it.

Grisham's Writing Career

The thing is, being a lawyer isn't exactly a cushy job. And so to make time to write the novel, Grisham had to get up at 5:00 each morning so he could write for a couple of hours before getting to his law work. The book he was working on was called A Time to Kill. You might recognize that title, as it eventually became a best-selling novel and movie. However, that success actually came years later. When Grisham first finished the novel, it was rejected by 28 publishers. Eventually, in 1988, a small publisher took a chance on the book, but it only sold a few thousand copies at the time.

Fortunately for Grisham's career - and for his millions of fans - Grisham didn't quit after writing that first novel. In fact, as soon as that book was done, he immediately began working on another novel. This second novel also drew on his experience as a lawyer. This novel, called The Firm, is about a young, talented lawyer who is lured to a law firm that seems perfect on the outside, but that actually has a very dark side to it. Unlike A Time to Kill, The Firm quickly became a huge success. It sold over seven million copies, was on the New York Times bestseller list for forty-seven weeks, and was turned into a very popular movie starring Tom Cruise.

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