Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
John Grisham
John Grisham, photo by Robin Holland
Watch Video
Read Transcript
January 25, 2008

Critics have acclaimed John Grisham's novels for their detailed portrayal of the intricacies of our legal and political systems — with a sinister twist. Grisham's ability to portray the worlds of law and politics comes from experience — he has been both a trial lawyer and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives from January 1984 to September of 1990. As Grisham notes "All my books are based, in some degree on something that really happened. There's an element in truth in all these books."

After 18 novels, John Grisham turned to non-fiction for the first time in his career. THE INNOCENT MAN was Grisham's investigation into why Ron Williamson and another man were wrongly convicted of a 1982 murder, and why he spent eleven years on death row before D.N.A. evidence finally set him free. Grisham has lent his talents to the Mississippi branch of The Innocence Project and speaks on this issue around the country:

We've sent 130 men to death row to be executed in this country, at least 130 that we know of, who have later have been exonerated because they were either innocent, or they were not fairly tried. That's 130 people that we've locked down on death row. And they've spent years there, including Ron Williamson, the guy I wrote about. Well, you know, if that doesn't bother you, go to death row. Go see a death row. Go look at one.

>More on exonerations and The Innocence Project

In his latest novel Grisham has turned his attention to the issue of judicial selection in America. He says THE APPEAL has more politics in it than any previous novel — and plenty of legal intrigue too, of course.

This is about the election of a Supreme Court justice in the state of Mississippi. Thirty some odd states elect their judges, which is a bad system. Because if they allow private money, just like the campaign we're watching now for president, you got corporate people throwing money in. You got big individuals. You got cash coming in to elect a judge who may hear your case. Think about that. You've got a case pending before the court and you want to reshape the structure of the court, well, just to get your guy elected.

John Grisham
Born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker, John Grisham as a child dreamed of being a professional baseball player. Realizing he didn't have the right stuff for a pro career, he shifted gears and majored in accounting at Mississippi State University. After graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.

One day at the DeSoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A TIME TO KILL and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.

The day after Grisham completed A TIME TO KILL, he began work on another novel. Grisham sold the film rights to this second work — THE FIRM to Paramount Pictures for $600,000. Since first publishing A TIME TO KILL in 1988, Grisham has written one novel a year (his other books are THE FIRM, THE PELICAN BRIEF, THE CLIENT, THE CHAMBER, THE RAINMAKER, THE RUNAWAY JURY, THE PARTNER, THE STREET LAWYER, THE TESTAMENT, THE BRETHREN, A PAINTED HOUSE, SKIPPING CHRISTMAS, THE SUMMONS, THE KING OF TORTS, BLEACHERS, THE LAST JUROR, and THE BROKER) and all of them have become international bestsellers. There are currently over 225 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, which have been translated into 29 languages. Nine of his novels have been turned into films.

Guest photo by Robin Holland.

Published on January 25, 2008.

Related Media:
Jerry Miller, photo by Robin HollandJerry Miller and the Innocence Project
Meet the 200th person exonerated by DNA post-conviction testing.

Thomas Cahill, photo by Robin HollandThomas Cahill
Bill Moyers interviews best-selling historian Thomas Cahill in a far ranging interview that takes viewers from the Coliseum in Rome to death row in Texas and examines what our attitudes toward cruelty can tell us about who we are as Americans.

Dominique Green
The story of Dominque Green, executed at 30 by the State of Texas and the subject of recent research by Thomas Cahill.

References and Reading:
John Grisham

JOHN GRISHAM: The Official Site
Find out more about Grisham and his works.

Read an excerpt from Grisham's latest novel.

Exonerations and The Innocence Project

Meet the 200
Learn more about the 200 people exonerated through DNA evidence by The Innocence Project.

The Exonerated: In Their Own Words
Watch the stories of three others exonerated by the Innocence Project.

Suspect Implicated by DNA That Cleared Miller
Possley, Maurice. "Officials: DNA that cleared one man implicates another in '81 rape," CHICAGO TRIBUNE, April 23, 2007.

Read the 'Justice for all Act'
This Act passed by Congress in 2004 raised the amount of damages compensation for those wrongfully accused and exonerated to $100,000 a year for each year of incarceration, and $50,000 a year for each year in prison for those not on death row. This law applies to federal cases only (though it urges states to do the same), and 28 states have no compensation statutes.

Learn more about other DNA exoneration organizations in your state.

Also This Week:

Bill Moyers interviews John Grisham, best-selling author of THE FIRM, THE PELICAN BRIEF, and THE RAINMAKER, in a far-ranging conversation that gives viewers insight into the beliefs and background that influenced Grisham's work and provides an unexpected look at his views about the state of the nation.

>Judicial Selection: Find Out Who's Picking Your Judges

>Web Exclusive Video: Grisham on writers and writing

A look at another record-breaking cycle in campaign ad spending.

Sociologist Katherine Newman on the global markets' effect on kitchen table issues.

Bill Moyers compares the rhetoric coming out of Washington with the reality on the ground when it comes to some major issues: the economy, the war, prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ