John Grisham: author 

CELEBRATING: John Grisham at book party in Blytheville.
  • CELEBRATING: John Grisham at book party in Blytheville.

John Grisham, author

Black Oak and Parkin

John Grisham, the author known for his best-selling legal thrillers, spent the first seven years of his life on a farm outside of Black Oak, Ark., which “was — and is — a very small town in Craighead County, about 30 miles from Jonesboro.”

In 2001, Grisham departed from his previous work to write an autobiographical novel, “A Painted House.” His own house “was on a small farm, three or four miles out of Black Oak, though it seemed like a thousand miles from anywhere,” Grisham remembers. “The description is fairly accurate in ‘A Painted House.’ The book was very autobiographical. But I can’t say I grew up in a small town in Black Oak, because we didn’t spend a lot of time in town. There just wasn’t much to do there.”

Grisham’s parents moved to the farm outside of Black Oak just after they married in 1952. It was “a bad piece of land that was constantly flooded,” according to Grisham. Eventually his father had enough of farming, and in 1962 he took a job with a construction company, which brought the family to Mississippi, Louisiana and back to Arkansas in the summer of 1963.

“The childhood I really remember was in Parkin, Arkansas. We spent three years there. I spent the third, fourth, and fifth grades in Parkin, Arkansas, and those were the fondest years of my childhood.

“It was just a wonderful town back then. It had everything a small town is supposed to have, first and foremost, an undefeated high school football team. They won 33 straight games — 11 games a year for three years. The whole town, in the fall, everything revolved around Friday night. If it was a home game, the whole town was electrified all day Friday. We couldn’t wait for the game. If it was an away game, the whole town packed up and went to the game. We were just unbeatable. A lot of guys on the team went to our church, which was the First Baptist Church of Parkin. They were like Greek gods to us, real heroes.

“The schools were very safe and secure. We knew our teachers, they knew your parents. It was just a very warm, cozy, safe world. We were very sheltered. We didn’t worry about crime or the problems around the world. We weren’t supposed to. We were kids.

“The Arkansas Razorbacks were a national powerhouse in the early 1960s, and again, that was life and death. We would listen on the radio. That was very much a part of every Saturday. There was football on Friday, football on Saturday, and then on Sunday you’d go to church and talk about football.

“It was the type of town, as most were back then, where you would get up in the morning, grab your baseball glove, get on your bike and take off. You might come home for lunch or you might not, but no one cared. We never thought about a bad thing happening to us. The whole town was ours to play in. We came home when we came home. Our mothers let us be kids.

“We lived in a small little house in town. You could walk to church, walk to school. The house still exists. It looks a whole lot smaller now than it did then. … The house was just off Main Street, and we lived there from the summer of 1963 to the summer of 1966. And we cried when we left. We did not want to leave Parkin. But my father got transferred again.”

Grisham used to return to Black Oak and Parkin more often than he does now, but the people he knew died, Black Oak has withered and Parkin, too, has changed.

Grisham occasionally comes to Mountain View to visit his parents, who moved there about 15 years ago.

“One time I went to see them, and I had my kids with me. We drove to Parkin and found the small house I had lived in. It was kind of a shock to my kids to see something that small and very much run down. They were very surprised.”

Did the places where he grew up influence his life?

“I can’t say anything from childhood inspired me to write books, except my mother didn’t like television, so we read books. We were taught to read early and encouraged to read books. I grew up doing a lot of reading.

“I think the work ethic, the notion of having a dream and working tirelessly to achieve it — I think that came from both parents, who were very hard workers. My mother especially — just like in ‘A Painted House,’ she did not want a life on the farm. She wanted her kids to go to college. So we grew up with that goal. We grew up believing we had the ability and capacity to achieve it.

“You kind of are where you came from. I guess if I had been raised in New York City, I’d have written something completely different. Thank God that didn’t happen!”

Warwick Sabin


Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Arkansas Times Staff

  • New episode of Rock the Culture podcast: 'Know Your Why'

    Antwan and Charles provide perspective and conversation on the City of Little Rock’s initiative to find jobs for our homeless population, the State Board of Education’s decision to take over the Pine Bluff School District, and Governor Hutchinson’s press conference on Arkansas Works. They also discuss the entrepreneurial mindset with local business owner, Lydia Page.
    • Sep 19, 2018
  • Monday's video and open line

    Today's headlines: State recommends denial of new permit for C and H Hog Farm. A change at the top of Tyson Foods. Medicaid Commission 'alarmed' by lost coverage in Arkansas. Hot Springs agency strikes deal to acquire Preferred Family Healthcare assets.
    • Sep 17, 2018
  • New episode of Out in Arkansas: "T&A talk the 'V' word"

    This week Traci and Angie navigate vulnerability from within and without. They discuss their own vulnerability and the need for “safe” spaces and the importance of being an ally both in and out of our community.
    • Sep 13, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Top Stories

  • Good for the soul

    The return of Say McIntosh, restaurateur
    • Jun 1, 2010
  • Robocalls are illegal

    Robocalls -- recorded messages sent to thousands of phone numbers -- are a fact of life in political campaigns. The public doesn't like them much, judging by the gripes about them, but campaign managers and politicians still believe in their utility.
    • May 31, 2010
  • Riverfest winds down

    With Cedric Burnside and Lightnin' Malcolm, Steve Miller Band, Robert Cray, Ludacris and more performing.
    • May 30, 2010
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The river people

    • I born in Newport Arkansas 1947.My daddy was a river man digging shells mainly for…

    • on September 16, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation