John Ray Grisham was born on February 8, 1955, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the second of five children in a working-class Southern Baptist family. His father was a construction worker and cotton farmer. The family settled in Southaven, Mississippi, where John played quarterback on the Southaven High School football team.
Grisham received a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from Mississippi State University in 1977. He had tried out for the baseball team at Delta State University but the coach dismissed Grisham for failing to hit curve balls. Grisham then went to law school at the University of Mississippi, receiving his Juris Doctor degree in 1981. He became interested in criminal law and general civil litigation. After graduation, he began his own general law practice in Southaven. He spent much of his time in court, thus laying the groundwork for his legal thrillers.
Elected in 1983, Grisham was a Democratic member of the Mississippi House of Representatives until 1990, all the while continuing his legal practice. In the 2008 presidential race, Grisham publicly supported Hillary Clinton and donated over $100,000 for Democratic campaigns. He gave over $5 million for Hurricane Katrina relief.
Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill (1989) was inspired by the rape case which he heard testimony about in Hernando, Mississippi in 1984. The Firm (1991), tells the story of a young attorney drawn to a seemingly perfect law firm. It became a best-selling novel. After that, he wrote a novel a year, almost all of which became best-sellers. Publishers Weekly declared Grisham “the bestselling novelist of the 90s,” selling a total of 60,742,289 copies. The Pelican Brief (1992) sold 11,232,480 copies in the United States.
With A Painted House (2001) about the rural south, Grisham began to explore topics other than crime. He continues on the Board of Directors for the Innocence Project, dedicated to using DNA testing to help the innocent after they have been wrongly convicted. His nonfiction book, The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town (2006) describes the wrongful convictions of two men for the murder of a cocktail waitress.
Grisham’s love of sports is in his work; football, in Bleachers (2003) and Playing for Pizza (2007), and baseball, in A Painted House (2001). He supports Little League Baseball and wrote and produced the baseball movie Mickey (on DVD, 2004). Other crime novels include The Rainmaker (1995), The Runaway Jury (1996), The Street Lawyer (1998), The Brethren (2000), The King of Torts (2003), The Broker (2005), The Associate (2009), Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (2010). Other nonlegal fiction includes Skipping Christmas (2001), and Ford County (2009).
Grisham is proud of the literary tradition of the south and has endowed scholarships and writers’ residencies at the University of Mississippi. He helped fund the Oxford American, a magazine devoted to literary writing. Thirteen of his novels have been made into films. He is married to Renée Jones and has two children.