Author John Grisham visited JMU for the third time Thursday night. Grisham hosted author and historian Jon Meacham for the Madison Vision Series Writer’s Hour, where they talked about their writing, politics, history and hope at Wilson Hall.
Grisham’s had 40 books published. Of these, 10 have inspired film adaptations, and one has become a Netflix documentary series called “The Innocent Man.” His newest book, “The Guardians,” comes out mid-October.
Grisham said he enjoys partaking in events like these because it’s a way for him to meet writers he “admires” and it gives the students, faculty and visitors a chance to meet them as well. Meacham and Grisham have been friends for around three years and have participated in events like this before and had plenty of fun.
Grisham said he and Meacham don’t plan anything before they participate in these type of events, meaning that it’s spontaneous and there’s no theme. This Writer’s Hour consisted of a conversation built around Grisham asking Meacham questions.
“JMU is really a cool place,” Grisham said. “I like the kids, I like the faculty, and it’s kind of like the school I went to. I went to Mississippi State, which is a big public institution with a lot of students and kind of a laid-back, fun atmosphere, a lot of sports, a lot of girls. It was college and I had a lot of fun. So, JMU has a real good feel to it.”
Meacham is a nonfiction writer who’s written 11 books on the history of the U.S. and former presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and George H.W. Bush. He’s currently working on a book about President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison.
“I especially appreciate Jon Meacham’s ability to balance the strengths of our nation’s leaders with their imperfections and to remind us of the true spirit of the American ideal and the better angels of our nature,” JMU President Jonathan Alger said.
The admiration Meacham has for Dolley Madison, as well as his fascination for James Madison’s reasonability, is what prompted him to write a book about Madison. Meacham also said he thinks other books about James Madison aren’t always remembered, and he wants to ensure that James Madison’s legacy will live on.
“Even being a two-term president, even in the early 19th century, was not a job for someone who was uncharismatic, so there was a political skill,” Meacham said. “There was a political power in this little guy that I want to try to bring out and explain.”
An acclaimed historian, Meacham talked about what he thought of today’s political culture in regard to controversial issues like immigration and the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville two years ago. He said that even though times seem hard in today’s age, people make a mistake in thinking the past was “simpler and easier than our own time.” He said it’s important to remember history when evaluating the present.
“There are certain symptoms that occur that would lead to a diagnosis that might lead to a course of treatment, and my own view is that if we don’t realize that every era has been a struggle, we foreclose the possibility of learning from the past and we don’t do proper honor to those who have fought and died to get us here,” Meacham said.
While keeping issues such as immigration, the opioid crisis, the “Unite the Right” rally and wrongful convictions in mind, Grisham said these events are what inspire him to write his latest novel, “The Guardian,” which was inspired by illegitimate convictions.
“I’m challenged by issues, issues I care about,” Grisham said. “I’m probably losing more sleep over issues now then I was 20 years ago.”
Grisham and Meacham ended the event by talking about how hope and reasoning are essential in today’s political culture. They said that in order to achieve reasoning, it’s important to be able to change one’s mind.
Grisham talked about the time he visited death row to do research for a book. Prior to his visit, he supported the death penalty, but after witnessing an execution, he changed his mind.
Senior English major Cady Hockman attended the event Thursday evening. She said she didn’t know what to expect, but it was “significantly entertaining.”
“I learned a lot about politics that I didn’t know,” Hockman said. “I think it also reaffirmed the importance of taking something that you’re passionate about and writing it so you can get your point across powerfully and emotionally.”
As far as what’s coming next for Grisham and Meacham, Grisham said he hopes to continue to write about issues that are important to him. Meacham said he hopes to finish his book about the Madisons soon.
“I’ll probably never stop writing as long as it’s enjoyable and it’s challenging,” Grisham said.
Contact Carley Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.