James Michener

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James A. Michener
Born: February 3, 1907
Flag of United States - Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA
Died: October 16 1997 (aged 90)
Flag of United States - Austin, Texas, USA
Occupation(s): Novelist
Short story writer
Literary genre: Historical Fiction

James Albert Michener (February 3, 1907 - October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which are epic or historical novels, sweeping sagas covering the lives of many generations in a particular geographic locale and incorporating much historical fact into the story as well. Michener was best known for the meticulous research behind his work.


Michener wrote that he did not know who his parents were or exactly when and where he was born. He was raised a Quaker by an adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Some people later argued that Mabel was in fact his biological mother but he refused to talk about that.


Michener graduated from Doylestown High School in 1925. Later, he graduated with highest honors from Swarthmore College, where he played basketball in 1929 and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He taught English at George School, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, from 1933-1936, then attended Colorado State Teachers College (in Greeley, Colorado), earned his master's degree, and then taught there for several years. He also taught at Harvard University. The library at the University of Northern Colorado is named for him.

Personal life

He was married three times. His second wife was Vange Nord (married in 1948). Michener met his third wife Mari Yoriko Sabusawa at a luncheon in Chicago and they were married in 1955 (the same year as his divorce from Nord). His novel Sayonara is pseudo-autobiographical.


Having no children, Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned, contributing more than $100 million to universities, libraries, museums, and other charitable causes.

Aborted political career

In 1960, Michener was chairman of the Bucks County committee to elect John F. Kennedy, and subsequently, in 1962, ran for the United States Congress, a decision he later considered to be a misstep. "My mistake was to run in 1962 as a Democrat candidate for Congress. [My wife] kept saying, "Don't do it, don't do it." I lost and went back to writing books."

Final years and death

In his final years, he lived in Austin, Texas, and, aside from being a prominent celebrity fan of the Texas Longhorns women's basketball team, he founded an MFA program now named the Michener Center for Writers.

In October 1997, Michener ended the daily dialysis treatment that had kept him alive for four years and as a result he died not long after. He was 90 years old.

Writing career

Michener's writing career began during World War II, when, as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to the South Pacific Ocean as a naval historian; he later turned his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book, which was the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific. It was published when he was 40.

In the late 1950s, Michener began working as a roving editor for Readers Guide. He gave up that work in 1970.

Michener was a very popular writer during his lifetime and his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide [1]. His novel Hawaii (published in 1959) was based on extensive historical research. Nearly all of his subsequent novels were based on detailed historical, cultural, and even geological research. Centennial, which documented several generations of families in the West, was made into a popular twelve part television miniseries of the same name that aired on NBC from October, 1978 through February, 1979.

In 1996, State House Press published "James A. Michener: A Bibliography" compiled by David A. Groseclose. It contains over 2,500 entries from 1923 to 1995 including magazine articles, forewords, books, and other works.

His prodigious output made for lengthy novels several of which run over 1,000 pages. The author states, in My Lost Mexico, that at times he would spend 12 to 15 hours per day at his typewriter for weeks on end and that he used so much paper his filing system had trouble keeping up.

Major Novels

Michener's major novels include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, The Source, The Fires of Spring, Chesapeake, Caribbean, Caravans, Alaska, Texas, and Poland. His nonfiction works include his 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir The World is My Home, and Sports in America.

Tales of the South Pacific

Tales of the South Pacific
Author James A. Michener
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Short stories
Publisher Macmillan, New York (1st edition)
Released January 28, 1947
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Tales of the South Pacific is a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of sequentially-related short stories about World War II, written during the early part of Michener's career (1946). The stories were based on observations and anecdotes he acquired while stationed as a lieutenant commander in the US Navy on the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands (now known as Vanuatu). The skipper of PT-105 met Michener while stationed at the PT boat base on Tulagi in the Solomon Islands.

The stories take place in, and surrounding, the Coral Sea and the Solomons. Michener gives a first-person voice to several as an unnamed "Commander" performing duties similar to those he performed himself. The stories are interconnected by recurring characters and several loose plot lines (in particular, preparations and execution of a fictitious amphibious invasion, code-named "Alligator") but focus on interactions between Americans and a variety of colonial, immigrant, and indigenous characters. The chronology of the stories takes place from before the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942 to early 1944. Although primarily about the U.S. Navy, most of the action is shore-based, and none concerns ships larger than an LCI.

The musical play South Pacific (which opened on Broadway on April 7, 1949), by Rodgers and Hammerstein, was based on these stories. While the coastwatcher in the musical was cast as an American, these were actually a network of Australians and native scouts, some of whom helped save the crew of John F. Kennedy's PT-109. The musical was produced as a feature film in 1958.


In 1948, Michener won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Tales of the South Pacific.

On January 10, 1977, Michener was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald R. Ford.

Opened in 1988 in Michener's hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the James A. Michener Art Museum houses collections of local and well-known artists. The museum, constructed from the remains of the old prison, is a non-profit organization, with both permanent and rotating collections. Two prominent permanent fixtures are the James A. Michener display room and the Nakashima Reading Room, constructed in honor of his third wife's Japanese heritage. The museum is known for its permanent collection of Pennsylvania Impressionistic paintings.


  • A Century of Sonnets (1997)
  • About Centennial: Some Notes on the Novel (1978)
  • Alaska (1988)
  • The Bridge at Andau (1957)
  • The Bridges at Toko-Ri, movie (1953)
  • Caravans (1963)
  • Caribbean (1989)
  • Centennial, TV miniseries (1974)
  • Chesapeake (1978)
  • Collectors, Forgers - And A Writer: A Memoir (1983)
  • The Covenant (1980)
  • Creatures of the Kingdom (1993)
  • The Drifters (1971)
  • The Eagle and The Raven (1990)
  • The Fires of Spring (1949), semi-autobiographical novel
  • The Floating World (1954)
  • The Future of the Social Studies ("The Problem of the Social Studies") (1939) Editor
  • Hawaii (1959)
  • Iberia (1968)
  • Journey (1989)
  • Kent State: What Happened and Why (1971)
  • Legacy (1987)
  • Literary Reflections (1993)
  • Matecumbe (2007)
  • Mexico (1992)
  • Miracle in Seville (1995)
  • My Lost Mexico (1992)
  • The Novel (1991)
  • Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome (1990)
  • Poland (1983)
  • Presidential Lottery (1969)
  • The Quality of Life (1970)
  • Rascals in Paradise (1957)
  • Recessional (1994)
  • Report of the Country Chairman (1961)
  • Return to Paradise (1951)
  • Sayonara (1954)
  • Six Days in Havana (1989)
  • The Source (1965)
  • Space (1982)
  • Sports in America (1976)
  • Tales of the South Pacific, South Pacific musical, film (1947)
  • Texas (1985)
  • This Noble Land (1996)
  • Ventures in Editing
  • The Voice of Asia (1951)
  • William Penn (1994)
  • The World is My Home (1992)
  • Years of Infamy

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External links

All links retrieved March 19, 2018.


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