John Grisham tells some of his story at Mississippi festival
John Grisham says being on the losing side of a Mississippi political fight gave him plenty of time to write big chunks of his first two legal thrillers, “A Time to Kill” and “The Firm.”
Grisham took part Saturday in the first Mississippi Book Festival at the state Capitol.
He recounted how, as a young state representative in the building during the 1980s, he was powerless after supporting a losing candidate for House speaker. So, instead, he listened and took notes as politicians drank coffee — or something stronger — and told tall tales.
“There’s a storytelling tradition that goes hand-in-hand with our literary tradition,” Grisham said.
More than 3,000 people attended the daylong book festival on the grounds of the state Capitol to celebrate the storytelling legacy of Mississippi, the home state of William Faulkner and other literary greats.
Throughout the day, panelists discussed a wide range of topics, including southern fiction, sports, food writing and civil rights history.
Aram Goudsouzian, chairman of the history department at the University of Memphis, discussed his book, “Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power and the Meredith March Against Fear.” It recounts a 1966 Memphis-to-Jackson freedom march started by James Meredith, whose 1962 enrollment as the first black student at the University of Mississippi had been met with violent protests.
Meredith survived being shot a few miles into the 1966 march. Hundreds of civil rights activists completed the 354-kilometer (220 miles) walk in his name, and 15,000 people rallied at the Mississippi Capitol at the end of it.
Goudsouzian said more than 4,000 African-Americans registered to vote in Mississippi during the march, which happened a year after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Among them, he said was a 106-year-old man in the northern Mississippi town of Batesville.
Speaking of the march, Goudsouzian said: “It exposed the depth of black grievances and the height of black possibilities.”
(Top) Best-selling author and former Mississippi lawmaker John Grisham, right, and moderator MacArthur Fellow Jerry Mitchell, center, listen as William Ferris, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, explains the importance of reading during their panel discussion on “What Reading Means for Our Culture,” at the Mississippi Book Festival, in the Galloway Methodist Church Sanctuary in Jackson, Mississippi, Saturday, Aug. 22. (Above) John Grisham, serving as the master of ceremonies at the opening of the Mississippi Book Festival, recalls writing his first two books while serving as a state representative at the Capitol, Saturday.