Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 606
John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, on February 8, 1955, the son of an itinerant construction worker and a homemaker. The family moved often, finally settling in Southaven, Mississippi, when Grisham was twelve. After moving to each town, Grisham would obtain a public library card and rate the condition of the town’s Little League field. He dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, becoming so focused on athletics that he neglected his grades in English. His love of baseball would continue through college. He enrolled at Northwest Junior College in Sanitobia, Mississippi, then transferred to Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi, where he continued to play baseball. When he realized that he was not destined for the major leagues, he transferred to Mississippi State.
At Mississippi State, Grisham majored in accounting with the intention of becoming a tax attorney. However, after his first tax-law class at the University of Mississippi, he decided that criminal law provided more interest and drama. After graduation in 1981, he returned to Southaven, opening up his own practice and marrying Renee Jones, a childhood friend. He ran a successful practice but felt unfulfilled. A change to practicing civil law brought no more personal satisfaction. Grisham won one of the largest settlements in DeSoto County history on behalf of a child who sustained extensive burns when a water heater exploded. An idealist, he pursued a political career on the platform of education reform, winning a position in the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1983. This, too, would be short-lived, as he discovered his inability to break through the bureaucracy of the state legislature to effect educational change. He resigned in 1990.
During Grisham’s tenure in the House, he had continued to practice law in Southaven. While observing a trial, Grisham listened as an adolescent girl testified against her rapist. The life-changing experience influenced him to write A Time to Kill. “I never felt such emotion in my life,” he said in an interview with People magazine. He began to obsess over what would have happened if the girl’s father had shot the culprit and then was put on trial. “I had to write it down,” he said. This developed into the nucleus of the plot, to which he added the complexity of racial relations in the South. Grisham thought about the book for a while before actually writing it. He would rise at dawn to write an hour a day while working sixty to seventy hours a week. He did this for three years to finish the book.
Grisham’s first book was rejected numerous times, then Jay Garon of New York agreed to represent him and made a deal with Wynwood Press for fifteen thousand dollars and five thousand copies. Grisham purchased a thousand copies for himself. Friends recalled how they received copies as gifts and how Grisham would sell the book at garden parties. Critics describe A Time to Kill as one of Grisham’s best novels, and a first edition has reached the value of thirty-nine hundred dollars. With the success of The Firm as well as the novels that followed, interest in Grisham’s first book grew, and it was reprinted.
Although Grisham does not regard himself as a bookworm, he does recall reading the works of John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. He is now a best-selling author, and his books have been translated into thirty-one languages and have topped more than 60 million in print. Such success enabled Grisham and his wife, Renee, to found the Rebuild the Coast Fund Organization in September, 2005. The organization donated five million dollars to help the lives destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
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