On this day in 1955, John Grisham, the best-selling author known for his legal thrillers, is born in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Grisham’s books have sold over 250 million copies worldwide, and over half a dozen of his novels have been turned into films.
The son of a construction worker and a homemaker, Grisham graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in accounting in 1977. He went on to attend law school at the University of Mississippi, earning a degree in 1981. Grisham spent nearly 10 years as an attorney with a Southaven, Mississippi, firm, and also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990.
Grisham began writing his first novel, “A Time to Kill,” after hearing the testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim; in the book, he imagined what would have happened if the victim’s father had murdered her assailants. Grisham finished the manuscript in 1987, after three years of working on it mornings before going into work at his law office, and during courtroom breaks. After multiple rejections, a small company bought “A Time to Kill” and published a modest 5,000 copies in 1989.
Grisham then began working on a new novel, “The Firm,” about a young attorney who goes to work for a law practice he discovers is a front for the mafia. After Grisham sold the movie rights to “The Firm” for a hefty six-figure sum, the book was purchased by a major publisher and became a best-seller following its 1991 release. The movie version of “The Firm,” which debuted in 1993, starred Tom Cruise and also became a major hit. Grisham’s next two books, “The Pelican Brief” (1992) and “The Client” (1993) topped best-seller lists, and his popularity prompted publishers to reissue “A Time to Kill” in hardcover and then in paperback (Grisham later referred to it as his favorite of all the legal thrillers he’s written). A film version of “A Time to Kill,” featuring Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson, premiered in 1996. That same year, Grisham took a brief hiatus from his career as an author to return to practicing law: He represented the family of a railroad worker who had been killed and won his clients a jury award of close to $700,000, the largest verdict of his career.
To date, Grisham has penned more than 20 books. In 2006, he published his first work of nonfiction, “An Innocent Man,” and in 2009, he released his first short story collection, “Ford County.” Nine of his books, along with one unpublished manuscript, have been adapted for film.