John Ray Grisham Jr. was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas on February 8, 1955. His father Johnny, a cotton farmer and itinerant construction worker moved the family frequently, from town to town throughout the Deep South, settling in Southaven, Mississippi in 1967. Although his parents lacked formal education, his mother Wanda encouraged him to read and insisted that he prepare himself for college.
By his own account, he had no interest in writing until after he embarked on his professional career. For his first two years in college, Grisham drifted, attending three different colleges before earning a degree. After abandoning a youthful dream of a professional baseball career, he settled down to study accounting and prepare for a career as a tax lawyer. While in law school, his interest shifted from tax law to criminal law and litigation. After graduating from the University of Mississippi law school, he established a small private legal practice in Southaven Mississippi. He was elected the to Mississippi House of Representatives in 1983. By his second term he held the vice chairmanship of the Apportionment and Elections Committee, as well as memberships on the Insurance, Judiciary A, and Military Affairs Committee.
In Mississippi, attorneys in private practice are sometimes called upon to appear as public defenders for indigent clients. In this way, Grisham received invaluable experience of the criminal justice system. Inspired by a case he observed in a Mississippi courthouse, Grisham decided to write a novel. For years, he arrived at his office at five o’clock in the morning, six days a week, to work on his first book, A Time To Kill. His manuscript was rejected by 28 publishers before he found an unknown publisher who was willing to print a short run. Without the benefit of a major publisher’s marketing apparatus, the novice author went directly to booksellers, encouraging them to stock his book. Although A Time to Kill sold a disappointing 5,000 copies, Grisham had already begun work on a second novel The Firm. At the same time, bored with the routine of the state capital and eager to spend more time with his family, he decided not to seek re-election to the state legislature. He closed his law practice and moved his family to Oxford, Mississippi, determined to concentrate on his writing.
At age 36, his career as a novelist bloomed when movie rights to The Firm were sold for a hefty price, even before the book had found a publisher. The Firm, has sold more than seven million copies and spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Grisham’s next offering, The Pelican Brief, sold six million copies. Within a few years, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and his subsequent effort, The Client, (1993) had all been made into successful films. His other novels include The Chamber (1994), The Rainmaker (1995),The Runaway Jury (1996) and The Partner (1997).