- Feb 8, 1955
Every spring, lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham dominates the publishing world with a new bestseller. Nicknamed "Hurricane Grisham" by journalists, he has taken Hollywood by storm as well: Grisham's made-for-adaptation legal thrillers have spawned the blockbusters The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Client (1994), and A Time to Kill (1996),… More Bio:
Every spring, lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham dominates the publishing world with a new bestseller. Nicknamed "Hurricane Grisham" by journalists, he has taken Hollywood by storm as well: Grisham's made-for-adaptation legal thrillers have spawned the blockbusters The Firm (1993), The Pelican Brief (1993), The Client (1994), and A Time to Kill (1996), inspiring Film Comment to concede that he may be one of cinema's new auteurs.
Born John Grisham Jr. on February 8, 1965 in Jonesboro, AR, Grisham is the second oldest of five children. His father, an itinerant construction worker, relocated the family often -- they lived in five different cities before settling in Southaven, MS, when Grisham turned 12. An avid reader, the first thing Grisham did in each new town was get a library card. In Southaven, he discovered the work of author John Steinbeck and began to entertain the idea of becoming a writer. Yet, he also loved sports and dreamed of playing professional baseball. Grisham spent one year on the team at Northwest Mississippi Junior College in nearby Senatobia. He then transferred to Delta State, where he walked onto the baseball team to disastrous results -- he could no longer hit a fastball and had grown afraid of curveballs. After giving up sports, Grisham left Delta to enroll at Mississippi State University.
Though he had never before been a serious student, Grisham began studying relentlessly. At the suggestion of a friend, he switched his major from economics to accounting with the hope of becoming a tax lawyer. He would also read all the latest best-sellers, eventually catching what he called "novel fever" and trying to write his own book. Though he never completed it, the task got him into the habit of keeping a journal of story ideas as a break from studying. After graduating in 1977, he attended law school at the University of Mississippi, where he changed his focus to criminal law. He also began writing another book, but gave up after only one chapter.
Grisham earned his J.D. in 1981 and moved back to Southaven to open a private practice. Bored with criminal law, he became a very successful civil lawyer -- winning one of the largest settlements in Mississippi's De Soto County -- but was still unsatisfied. He decided to enter politics and won a seat in the Mississippi State Legislature in 1983. A year later, inspired by the real-life testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim, he began writing a third novel with one goal: to finish it.
For three years, Grisham woke up at dawn to write before going to work. He eventually sold the manuscript, titled A Time to Kill, to a small press who published only 5,000 copies, most of which Grisham bought himself. Undiscouraged, he was already well on his way to completing a second book. Following the Writer's Digest guidelines for composing a suspense novel, he plotted The Firm, the story of a Harvard law graduate who is recruited by a high-profile Memphis law firm that turns out to be a mob front. While Grisham struggled to get the manuscript published, a bootleg copy began circulating around Hollywood unbeknownst to its author. Paramount offered him 600,000 dollars for the film rights, which instantly made The Firm a hot commodity among U.S. publishers. The novel stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 47 weeks. It's big-screen version, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman, and Holly Hunter, was a huge success.
After selling The Firm, Grisham closed his law practice and resigned from his legislative post. He began writing full-time, churning out an average of one book a year, most of which were optioned by movie studios before they were even finished. His third novel, The Pelican Brief, became 1992's longest-running hardcover best-seller and went into production under director Alan Pakula. The author watched the adaptation, which starred Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, for the first time at the White House
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