RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – More known for his courtroom-based novels, author John Grisham’s newest book incorporates one of North Carolina’s passions – college basketball.
Grisham’s novel “Sooley,” which sits at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, follows the life of a young man from South Sudan who earns a spot to represent his country in a showcase basketball tournament in the U.S.
“The sports books are wonderful diversions away from all of the crooked lawyers I write about, the legal thrillers the courtroom dramas. And I love to read sports stories, we all do, especially sad ones,” Grisham said. “But, I’ve wanted to write about college basketball for a long time. I’ve written two football novels, a baseball novel and have always been looking for a story, a basketball story, and when the story came together about a year ago it seemed to work real well and the book got better and better.”
Grisham, who played high school basketball himself, chose for Sooley to play for North Carolina Central for a reason.
“While he is here some terrible things happen his village in South Sudan, his home is destroyed, his family is scattered, he doesn’t know if they’re alive,” Grisham explained.
Hoping they survived and are in a refugee camp, the Eagles’ basketball team, the Eagles’ football team, the NCCU campus, and Durham become Sooley’s refuge.
“Because when you meet Sooley, he is not being recruited, he’s a good player but the big schools wouldn’t go after him. Central didn’t recruit him but the Central coach was good buddies with Sooley’s summer coach and he kind of pulled a string and got him on campus.
“I had to pick a school that was not in a Power 5 conference. I wanted a school that was in a conference where the winner of the conference tournament gets an automatic bid to March Madness and so those reasons came together,” he said.
While much of the book takes place in Durham, South Sudan is very much a part of what drives the story.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis and it’s not getting better so I wanted to kind of, you know I didn’t want to deliver a message, I’m writing a sports book, but I thought it would be nice if I could illuminate the problem in a small way and let the readers kind of learn something about what’s going on,” he said.
John Grisham lives part-time in Chapel Hill and his wife, Renne, grew up in Raleigh.
To see Russ Bowen’s interview about Grisham’s novel Camino Winds, click here.