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. Grisham said of going to 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.
Whilst at Ole Miss, he became friends with Ronnie Musgrove, lieutenant governor of Mississippi and candidate for governor. Grisham said:
"We sat next to each other in tort class, and he was the only guy in our study group who was married. The highlight of our week was to go to the Musgroves' home and eat lasagna Musgrove's wife Melanie would make."
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.
Interestingly, first editions of both A Time to Kill and The Firm are now rare and expensive. Grisham replied to one fan asking about first editions thus:
"First editions of A Time to Kill and The Firm are very rare. I have a few, but they are buried in the backyard."
The lack of success and support for his first work 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.
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.
Grisham's favourite writer is John Steinbeck.
He would like to write two books on baseball, one for kids and one for adults, but the stories haven't come to him yet. He told the audience he always has an ending in mind when he starts a book, and he follows a chapter outline.
Grisham has said he doubted he would ever run for political office in the future.