I was born in the hamlet of Dickinson, Alabama, which has a population of around 400 and is about half-white, half-black. I attended Dickinson Baptist Church for a while. I grew up a nonhunter in a hunting household, and I liked writing, drawing, and reading. I am the first member of my family to finish college.
When I turned 18, we moved to Mobile, and my father, a mechanic, opened a shop there. I went to the University of South Alabama, but I got such bad grades that my father told me he wasn't going to pay anymore. From there, I got jobs in a warehouse, at a plant that made sandblasting grit, and finally with an engineering firm, which sent me to a chemical plant where I spent years cleaning up hazardous waste. All through these jobs, I took classes at the University of South Alabama, paying my own tuition as I went, and finally discovering creative writing classes. I worked in my late twenties, finishing my BA and beginning my MA, in a hospital in Mobile, and also tutoring in the university's writing lab. From there, I got a job teaching at Selma University, an historical all-black Baptist college. I was neither black nor Baptist (not anymore) and was, usually, the only white person on campus. I taught six classes one semester, six different classes, and five the next. I also finished my comprehensive exams for my MA, finished my thesis (a short story collection), and worked on my foreign language proficiency exam.
I'd published a few short stories and won third prize in the Playboy College Fiction Contest (around 1991), and so I decided to pursue writing as a career. I applied to several MFA programs and wound up, fortunately, at the University of Arkansas. There I met my wife, poet Beth Ann Fennelly. We got married at the end of that four-year-long program, and around the same time, I sold my first book, Poachers, and the idea for Hell at the Breech, to William Morrow. We lived apart that first year of marriage--it was hard getting teaching jobs in the same city--but moved to Galesburg, Illinois, where my wife got a job teaching at Knox College. I won the Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and moved there for one semester. After that, we decided no more living apart.
I taught at Knox for a year, during which we had our first child, Claire. Then I was offered the John and Renee Grisham Chair in Creative Writing in Oxford, Mississippi. We moved there, planning to return to Galesburg, but never have. Beth Ann was offered a job at Ole Miss, and they named me an ongoing writer-in-residence--and there we remain to this day. Our second child, Thomas Gerald Franklin III (I'm Junior) was born in Oxford in 2005. We love Oxford and hope never to leave.