As a child, John Grisham would often find himself with stacks of books by his side, indulging in his passion for reading. Throughout his life, he always considered himself a reader, so it was only natural that one day his profession in law sparked his interest in writing. Inspired by the courtroom drama he’d witnessed, Grisham decided to write his first book. Little did the Arkansas native know that in a few years, he’d be in New York City watching the premiere of one of his many novels as a best-selling author.
Grisham will be hosting fellow author James McBride on Oct. 17 from 4-5:15 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts. The event is open to students, faculty and the public with free admission. Grisham plans to talk about books and the writing process, and he believes the event will be amusing and light-hearted.
“It’s just fun to meet other writers,” Grisham said. “It’s fun to sit around for an hour and talk about writing and publishing and books and movies, and we realized that people really enjoy listening to it.”
Grisham began his career as a criminal defense and personal injury litigation lawyer in Mississippi, with the idea of becoming an author was far from his mind. He eventually came to the decision after overhearing the testimony of a rape victim in the courthouse one day, eventually basing his first book on what he’d witnessed.
Although he was rejected by multiple publishers, his work was ultimately picked up by the little-known Wynwood Press. In 1989, after three years of work, “A Time to Kill”was finally out for the world to see, yet Grisham’s career didn’t skyrocket at first. His second book, “The Firm,” was his first best-selling novel that was turned in a major motion picture. The story follows a young lawyer that is faced with a life-or-death decision when the FBI wants his help uncovering the truth about the exclusive law firm he works for.
When starting out, Grisham intended to pursue his “serious hobby” of writing, yet it soon turned into a career that would lead to publishing a multitude of novels — nine of which were made into popular movies. The idea of fame and fortune didn’t drive Grisham to pursue this career. Rather, his motivation for it all was to simply tell a good story.
“I want to entertain readers,” Grisham said. “I want them to read my books and find them compelling and page-turning, and I want them to lose sleep and call in sick to work and skip classes to finish the book.”
Known for his enticing thrillers, Grisham said he’ll occasionally write novels based around important topics involving the law to inform readers. Similar to Grisham, McBride has also written about serious topics ranging from slavery to growing up in a poor African-American family, as described in his memoir “The Color of Water.” In addition to being a best-selling writer, McBride is also a journalist, screenwriter and musician.
“These are big, big names coming to JMU,” Inman Majors, coordinator of the event and an English professor at JMU, said. “One of the most famous authors in America is going to be interviewing other famous authors on our campus.”
Majors has known Grisham for six years, and the two have been planning the event for nine months. The idea was to have Grisham host the event rather than be the guest, which enabled another well-known author in McBride to come to campus. With the help and support of the administration, Majors was able to get the event up and going. He and Grisham hope it will continue in years to come, and potentially be the start of bringing many famous authors to campus.
Grisham is open to continuing the event as long as students and the university enjoy it and show an interest. Majors says that it’s “very gracious” of Grisham to moderate the writer’s hour.
“The general public will show up for sure,” Majors said. “I’m hoping students come out, and not just students interested in writing. I think anyone who is interested in intellectual discourse will come out.”
Kaitlyn Bridgeforth, a senior psychology and philosophy double major, is excited for the chance to see the two authors in person. Bridgeforth said the writer’s hour will be more personal than watching the authors speak on television or reading an article about them. She plans to attend because she believes hearing about the techniques and experiences from Grisham and McBride will be helpful in her own writing skills.
“Maybe [I’ll] figure out how to combat writer's block and keep writing interesting,” Bridgeforth said. “There’s something to be gained from every subject, so why not learn something new.”
Before the event begins, there will be a question-and-answer session for students with Grisham and McBride from 2-3 p.m. in Hotel Madison. In the past, Majors hosted Grisham with fellow writers John Hart and Corban Addison on campus in spring 2015. The event was held on a more intimate, smaller scale and only advertised to English majors.
This upcoming spring, Grisham will host author Alice McDermott for the second edition of the writer’s hour. The event with McDermott will be similar to the one with McBride.
Grisham is excited to be in Harrisonburg and is looking forward to the event. He and McBride are planning to engage with the audience, answer any questions and create an entertaining and educational experience.
“Hopefully the students will learn something, but this is going to be a good time,” Grisham said. “Students may be inspired to write more and to think about pursuing the dream of writing.”
Contact Christine Nappi at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.