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The Lost John Grisham Story – “The Birthday” (1995)

Of the numerous casualties of the digital revolution, one of the most disheartening is the demise of the magazine.

As the world at large turned away from magazines, I returned to them, building a small collection and finding in the tangible something that was lost on the screen.

I’m also constantly amazed at how many magazines were in existence at one point. There seemed to be countless, focusing on any topic or subject you could imagine – and even some you couldn’t even imagine.

Then there were the literary mags. I’m not a high-brow individual, but I do occasionally dip my toe into the waters of The New Yorker or The Atlantic. These were intellectually raised without being (too) snobbish.

A publication in this vein that I had no idea existed until very recently is The Oxford American. A quarterly magazine based in Oxford, Mississippi that focuses on life in the American South, its first issue was published in March, 1992.

That premier issue included commentary from William F. Buckley, Jr., Bill James, and an essay from Mississippi son John Grisham, that is actually online titled, “The Faulkner Thing.” The Oxford American only lasted four issues until it was shut down in mid-1994 due to a lack of funding.

A year later, Grisham managed to secure financing to re-launch the magazine and in the next issue, March/April 1995, he published a (very) short story, titled “The Birthday.” Unlike “The Faulkner Thing,” it is not available on the magazine’s website – in fact, I couldn’t find it anywhere online.

As the internet’s foremost Grisham scholar, I had to have it. So of course I bought an actual copy of a twenty-seven year-old magazine (it also includes an essay by Donna Tartt). See below for photos of the story – if you click to enlarge, you should be able to read it – shades of it are reminiscent of “Michael’s Room” from the Ford County short story collection.

Part 1
Part 2

The Oxford American also published a serialized version of his semi-autobiographical novel, A Painted House, in 2000. The magazine continued to struggle financially and has stopped and re-started several times since 2002 but appears to have stabilized, even winning four National Magazine Awards and celebrating its 100th issue in 2008.


Christopher Pierznik is the foremost expert on John Grisham’s oeuvre and the worst-selling author of nine books. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business /Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Connect on Facebook or get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.

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By Christopher Pierznik

Christopher Pierznik is the author of 9 books and has contributed to numerous websites on a variety of topics including music, sports, movies, TV, personal finance, and life. He works in corporate finance and lives in northern New Jersey with his family. His dream is to one day be a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

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