Mid-South native John Grisham returns for book signing

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - John Grisham walked into Burke's Books in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Memphis and immediately began hugging people.

"They're old friends," the bestselling author said of Corey and Cheryl Mesler, the husband and wife team who own the esteemed bookstore that has persevered the era of Amazon.com and the tidal waves of change engulfing the book business.

"I started signing at Burke's in 1991 with The Firm," Grisham said, referring to one of his early hits that was made into a Memphis-based movie starring Tom Cruise. "It's home, OK? It's Memphis, Southaven, Desoto County and we'd draw a lot of people from those areas and we'd sign books until midnight."

Grisham said he loves going to independent bookstores all over the country.

"Wherever I go, Renee and I are always looking for a bookstore," Grisham said of his wife of 36 years.

Grisham graduated with a degree in accounting from Mississippi State University in 1977 and a degree in law from the University of Mississippi in 1981. He went on to pass the bar exam and practice law for a decade.

He won a seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives, serving 1983-1990 and quietly began writing his first novel, "A Time to Kill," over a three-year period.

Dozens of publishers passed on Grisham's first effort and missed signing the author, who has now produced 30 books and, according to Wikipedia in 2012, has sold 275 million books!

"I couldn't dream that big," Grisham said as he sat ready to sign 300 copies of his latest legal thriller, 'The Rooster Bar.' "I'd never written anything until I was 30 years old. It came later in life. I was a lawyer when I started writing the first book. I've had a bit of luck along the way."

After Grisham retired from practicing law to write full time, he and his wife and two children moved from Southaven to Oxford, Mississippi.

"We thought we'd be there forever. In 1994, we moved to Charlottesville, Virginia for one year to try and get away and hide. Fell in love with the area," Grisham said. "The town itself is a university town, it's diverse, it's tolerant, it's a great place to live. We don't deserve what happened to us August 12."

That's the day a highly organized group of white supremacists marched after the city council voted 3-2 to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Riots broke out, leaving one woman dead, dozens injured, and the people of Charlottesville shell-shocked.

"When the fighting was over, we were walking around downtown looking at the rubble and saying what happened? Why here? These aren't our people. We don't know any people like that," Grisham said of the so-called "Alt-Right" protesters who marched, carrying torches and chanting "blood and soil" before violence broke out on August 12.

A son of the South now 62 years old, Grisham has a deep understanding of how a wide variety of Americans feel about Confederate memorials.

"These statues were put up in the height of Jim Crow long after the war was over," Grisham said. "The war should've been forgotten when it was over. It was a bad idea to start with as most wars are. It was a stupid war to fight and it was a terrible loss for the South. I don't know why we spend so much time trying to glorify something that was so bad for us and the heroes that made it happen. (Robert E.) Lee hated statues. Lee would not agree to statues. For years there were no statues. They put them up in the height of Jim Crow as a symbol I guess of glorifying the war but also as a symbol of white supremacy. That's why they put them up: to glorify people who tried to protect slavery."

But Grisham is not among those urging removal of monuments that have stood for decades in counties all across the south. The City of Memphis is currently urging the Tennessee Historical Commission to allow the removal of statues of Jefferson Davis and the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest that include the tombs of the Confederal leader and his wife.

"I'm a little hesitant to remove historic monuments because to me you're trying to whitewash history," Grisham said. "What I would prefer to do is leave the monuments there and put up other monuments to the slaves that suffered, to the abolitionists who were very brave. There were abolitionists who took a stand. We don't know their names. We never studied them. We don't glorify them. But tell the whole story. Put up monuments side by side and present all of history. But don't whitewash any of it. That's my hang up with removing monuments."

The superstar author signed hundreds of copies of "The Rooster Bar" at Burke's Book and then the new bookstore in Laurelwood called Novel.

They were handed out to the hundreds of Grisham fans who showed up at Christian Brothers University on Thursday night, where Grisham and noted author Hampton Sides chatted with a sold-out audience about writing and their disciplines in creating modern literature people buy.

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