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Abstract

In 1989, Mississippi State University (MSU) acquired the papers of alumnus, lawyer and Mississippi State legislator John Grisham, who was at the time selling his first novel A Time to Kill out of the trunk of his car. Though the first accession of papers was small, consisting of the early papers of Grisham's legislative career, the acquisition was an exciting one. Mississippi State University has long exhibited pride in its alumni, and the MSU Library's collection of papers reflected that pride and connection. Although University President Don Zacharias and Library Directory George Lewis certainly had high hopes for Grisham's writing career, neither of them could have foreseen the influence of first novelist John Grisham on the future of the university, the library, and on the Manuscripts Division of Special Collections. For John Grisham's second novel The Firm and the subsequent film made from it launched a career which propelled Grisham and the Mississippi State University Library into an archival relationship which appears to be fairly unique in archival history: an archival relationship in which the manuscripts of a best-selling author are acquired as a complete body during the lifetime of the author, and in this case, during the period of the author's greatest celebrity. This article will document this archivist's experience in curating the John Grisham Papers with special attention given to acquisition, donor agreements, research value, demand, exhibits and processing issues.

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