John Gr­isham tells some of his story at Mis­sis­sippi fes­ti­val

The China Post - - ARTS - BY EMILY WAG­STER PET­TUS

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.”

AP

(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.

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