John Grisham is quick with a joke. Married to a UNC graduate and with a daughter who graduated in 2008, he said he is already tired of basketball this season. Teased about wearing a suit, he quipped that he still dresses like a lawyer, years after changing professions.
But what he writes about is anything but lighthearted. Grisham writes nearly one book a year and the majority fall under the genre of legal thrillers. His topics include homelessness, the death penalty and wrongful incarceration — the seriousness of which is surprising, given that his two grandchildren refer to him as “G.”
Grisham was the lecturer at this year’s Eve Marie Carson Lecture Series. He spoke about his involvement in the Innocence Project, a non-profit that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted, and his passion for rights for those people. Judicial reform was not always on his radar, though.
“It’s really odd because I’d been a lawyer for 10 years and I never thought about the wrongfully convicted,” Grisham said. “I’d written 10 books, maybe more, about the legal system, before I finally woke up one day and saw these stories about these high-profile DNA exonerations.”
One of these stories inspired “The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town,” Grisham’s only nonfiction novel, which was recently adapted into a Netflix series. He discovered the story while reading the obituaries — he came across a man named Ronald Keith Williamson who was wrongfully convicted of a murder, sentenced to death and exonerated once further evidence came to light.