James A. Michener

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
James A. Michener
James Albert Michener · DN-SC-92-05368.JPEG
Author James A. Michener in 1991
Born (1907-02-03)February 3, 1907
Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died October 16, 1997(1997-10-16) (aged 90)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Occupation Author, philanthropist, teacher, academic, naval officer and political advisor
Genre Historical fiction
Notable works Tales of the South Pacific (1946)
Notable awards 1948: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1977: Presidential Medal of Freedom
2008: Honorary portrait image on a United States postage stamp

James Albert Michener (/ˈmɪnər/;[1] February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 books, the majority of which were fictional, lengthy family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating solid history. Michener was known for the popularity of his works; he had numerous bestsellers and works selected for Book-of-the-Month club. He was also known for his meticulous research behind the books.[2]

Michener's 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 non-fiction works include Iberia, about his travels in Spain and Portugal; his memoir titled The World Is My Home, and Sports in America. Return to Paradise combines fictional short stories with Michener's factual descriptions of the Pacific areas where they take place.[2]

His first book was adapted as the popular Broadway musical South Pacific by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, and later as a film by the same name, adding to his financial success. Several other works were adapted for feature films or TV films. Having grown up poor, Michener worked hard and lived modestly. He became a major philanthropist, donating more than 100 million dollars to educational, writing and related cultural institutions, including 37 million to the University of Texas.[2]


Michener wrote that he did not know who his biological parents were or exactly when or where he was born.[2] He said he was raised a Quaker by an adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.[3]

Michener graduated from Doylestown High School in 1925. He attended Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where he played basketball and was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. After graduating summa cum laude in 1929 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and History, he traveled and studied in Scotland at the University of St Andrews for two years.[4]

Michener took a job as a high school English teacher at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. From 1933 to 1936 he taught English at George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He attended University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Education.[3] After graduation, he taught there for several years. The library at the University of Northern Colorado was later named after him.

In 1935, Michener married Patti Koon. He went to Harvard University and taught from 1939 to 1940, but left to join Macmillan Publishers as their social studies education editor.[3]

Michener was called to active duty during World War II in the United States Navy. He traveled throughout the South Pacific Ocean on various assignments which he gained because his base commanders mistakenly thought his father was Admiral Marc Mitscher.[5] His experiences during these travels inspired his stories published in his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.[3]

In 1960, Michener was chairman of the Bucks County committee to elect John F. Kennedy. In 1962, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, a decision he later considered a misstep. "My mistake was to run in 1962 as a Democratic candidate for Congress. [My wife] kept saying, 'Don't do it, don't do it.' I lost and went back to writing books."[3]

In 1968, Michener served as the campaign manager for twice-elected US senator Joseph S. Clark's third-term run.[6] Michener was later Secretary for the 1967–68 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.[3]

Writing career[edit]

Michener's writing career began during World War II as a lieutenant in the Navy, when he was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian. He later turned his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book, published in 1947, when he was 40. It was adapted as the Broadway musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein.[7] Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948. The musical was also adapted as a film by the same name.

Michener tried television writing but was unsuccessful. American television producer Bob Mann wanted Michener to co-create a weekly anthology series from Tales of the South Pacific, and serve as narrator. Rodgers and Hammerstein, however, had bought all dramatic rights to the novel and did not give up their ownership.[8] Michener did lend his name to a different television series, Adventures in Paradise, in 1959.[9] In the late 1950s, Michener began working as a roving editor for Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. He gave up that work in 1970.[citation needed]

Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime; his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide.[10] His novel Hawaii (published in 1959) was based on extensive research. He used this approach for nearly all of his subsequent novels, which were based on detailed historical, cultural, and even geological research. Centennial, which documented several generations of families in the West, was adapted as a popular 12-part television miniseries of the same name and 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. Its more than 2,500 entries from 1923 to 1995 include magazine articles, forewords, and other works.

Michener's prodigious output made for lengthy novels, several of which run more than 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.[page needed]


Michener was married three times. In 1935, he married Patti Koon. In 1948, he divorced Koon. That same year, he married his second wife, Vange Nord.[2]

Michener met his third wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, at a luncheon in Chicago. An American, she and her Japanese parents had suffered internment in camps the US set up during World War II to hold ethnic Japanese from West Coast communities. Michener divorced Nord in 1955 and married Sabusawa the same year. She died in 1994.[2]

Michener's novel Sayonara is quasi-autobiographical.[3]


Michener became a major philanthropist, donating more than US$100 million to educational and writing institutions, including his alma mater, Swarthmore College, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and more than US$37 million to University of Texas at Austin. By 1992 his gifts made him UTA's largest single donor to that time. Over the years, Mari Michener played a major role in helping direct his donations.[2]

In 1989, Michener donated the royalty earnings from the Canadian edition of his novel, Journey (published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart), to create the Journey Prize, an annual Canadian literary prize worth $10,000 (Cdn) that is awarded for the year's best short story published by an emerging Canadian writer.[11]

Final years and death[edit]

In his final years, the Micheners lived in Austin, Texas. He and his wife endowed the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. It provides Michener Fellowship scholarships to students accepted to the university's MFA in Writing graduate writing program.[12][13]

Suffering from terminal kidney disease, in October 1997, Michener ended the daily dialysis treatment that had kept him alive for four years. He said he had accomplished what he wanted and did not want further physical complications. On October 16, 1997, James A. Michener died of kidney failure at the age of 90.[2][7]

He was cremated and his ashes were placed next to those of his wife at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, Texas. He is honored by a memorial headstone at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.[14]

Michener left most of his estate and the copyrights of his books to Swarthmore College.[15] He had donated his papers to Northern Colorado University, where he earned his master's degree.[2]


  • In 1993, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation awarded Michener its Lone Sailor Award for his naval service and his literary achievements.[18]

"Many of the fondest memories of my travels stem back to my years of military service in the New Hebrides -- now Vanuatu -- during the Pacific War years of the early 1940s...While those beautiful islands have changed much with progress in the ensuing years, I know from subsequent visits that the friendliness of the peoples, their infectious smiles and their open-heartedness will remain forever one of life's treasures."[19]

  • In 1998, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore named one of their suites after the author, in memory of his patronage and affection for the hotel. Michener first stayed at the Singapore hotel in 1949 after World War II. In a 1987 interview, he said it was a luxury for him, a young man, to stay at the Raffles Hotel then, and that he had the time of his life. He returned on a later trip. The suite was officially christened by Steven J. Green, Ambassador of United States to Singapore.[7]

James A. Michener Art Museum[edit]

Opened in 1988 in Michener's hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the James A. Michener Art Museum houses collections of local and well-known artists. Michener pledged $5.5 million to the museum in 1996.[2] Constructed from the remains of an old prison, the museum 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 Impressionist paintings.

James A. Michener Society[edit]

The James A. Michener Society was formed in the fall of 1998 and is composed of people who share a common interest in James Michener's life and work.[20]

The society's purpose is to provide the following:[20]

  • preserve the intellectual legacy of James A. Michener as a writer, teacher, historian, public servant, patriot, and philanthropist;
  • ensure that future generations have full access to all his writings;
  • promote the exchange of ideas and information about his writings;
  • encourage fellowship among readers of his writings;
  • inform devotees and members of the Society about recent publications and critiques of his writings.

The society sponsors a variety of activities and publishes an electronic newsletter. Annual meetings of members are held at locations closely associated with James Michener's life.[20]


In addition to writing novels, short stories and non-fiction, Michener was very involved with movies, TV series, and radio. The following is only a major part of what is listed in the Library of Congress files.[citation needed]

Books — fiction[edit]

Title Year published
Tales of the South Pacific 1947
The Fires of Spring 1949
Return to Paradise 1950
The Bridges at Toko-ri 1953
Sayonara 1954
Hawaii 1959
Caravans 1963
The Source 1965
The Drifters 1971
Centennial 1974
Chesapeake 1978
The Watermen 1978
The Covenant 1980
Space 1982
Poland 1983
Texas 1985
Legacy 1987
Alaska 1988
Caribbean 1989
Journey 1989
The Novel 1991
South Pacific 1992
Mexico 1992
Recessional 1994
Miracle in Seville 1995
Matecumbe 2007

Books — non-fiction[edit]

Title Year published Notes
The Future of the Social Studies ("The Problem of the Social Studies") 1939 Editor
The Voice of Asia 1951
The Floating World 1954
The Bridge at Andau 1957
Rascals in Paradise 1957
Japanese Prints: From the Early Masters to the Modern 1959 With notes by Richard Lane
Report of the County Chairman 1961
The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation 1968
Iberia 1968 Travelogue
Presidential Lottery 1969
The Quality of Life 1970
Kent State: What Happened and Why 1971
Michener Miscellany – 1950/1970 1973
Firstfruits, A Harvest of 25 Years of Israeli Writing 1973
Sports in America 1976
About Centennial: Some Notes on the Novel 1978
James A Michener's USA: The People and the Land 1981 Edited by Peter Chaitin; foreword by Michener
Collectors, Forgers — And A Writer: A Memoir 1983
Michener Anthology 1985
Six Days in Havana 1989
Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome 1990
The Eagle and the Raven 1990
My Lost Mexico 1992
The World Is My Home 1992 Autobiography
Creatures of the Kingdom 1993
Literary Reflections 1993
William Penn 1994
Ventures in Editing 1995
This Noble Land 1996
Three Great Novels of World War II 1996
A Century of Sonnets 1997


Title Notes
The Bridges at Toko-Ri 1953 film
Return to Paradise 1953 film
Men of the Fighting Lady 1954 film
Until They Sail 1957 film based on a short story included in Return to Paradise
Sayonara 1957 film nominated for 10 Academy Awards, won four; including Best Supporting Actress, for Miyoshi Umeki the first and as of 2010, the only East Asian Actress to win an Oscar.
South Pacific 1958 film
Adventures in Paradise 1959–62 television series
Hawaii 1966 film
The Hawaiians 1970 film
Centennial 1978 TV miniseries
Caravans 1978 film starring Anthony Quinn
Space 1985 TV miniseries
James A. Michener's Texas 1994 TV miniseries
South Pacific 2001 television movie

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Michener". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Fourth ed.). Houghton Mifflin. 2004. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Albin Krebs (October 17, 1997). "James Michener, Author of Novels That Sweep Through the History of Places, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved November 5, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Pennsylvania Center for the Book - Michener Biography, Penn State University Libraries
  4. ^ Biographical Sketch, James A. Michener Papers, University of Miami liberary
  5. ^ Michener, James A. Return to Paradise Random House 1951
  6. ^ Beers, Paul B. (March 31, 1976). Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday: The Tolerable Accommodation. Penn State University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0271002385. 
  7. ^ a b c "Get me Michener at Raffles". Singapore: The New Paper. September 16, 1998. 
  8. ^ Hayes, John Michael. James A. Michener: A Biography, Bobbs-Merrill, 1984, p. 158.
  9. ^ Hayes, p. 159.
  10. ^ "James Michener Biography". Bookrags.com. Retrieved May 3, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Journey Prize". 
  12. ^ "The Michener Center for Writers and its Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Texas at Austin". utexas.edu. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  13. ^ "The Michener Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin". utexas.edu. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Memorial headstone details for James Michener". cemetery.state.tx.us. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  15. ^ O'Neill, James (March 1, 1998). "Michener's gift keeps on giving". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  16. ^ Two American Legends Appearing on Stamps: The Postal Service Honors James Michener and Dr. Edward Trudeau.
  17. ^ "Michener Library". Libraries: UNC's Information Source. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  18. ^ "Lone Sailor Award Recipients". The United States Navy Memorial. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  19. ^ http://www.iririki.com/dinning.html
  20. ^ a b c James A. Michener Society

Further reading[edit]

  • Hayes John Phillip, James A. Michener: A Biography, Bobbs Merrill, 1985.
  • James A. Michener: The Beginning Teacher, 1995. His formative school years with Michener's personal reminiscences. Published by The Book Stops Here.
  • James A. Michener: A Bibliography, 1996.
  • Herman Silverman, Michener and Me: A Memoir; hardcover 1999/paperback 2003. Memoir by a long-time friend of Michener.
  • Michener: A Writer's Journey, 2005.
  • Michener's The Name, 2006, by photographer Robert Vavra. Photo essay and commentary on Michener's writing of Iberia in Spain.
  • Lawrence Grobel, Conversations with Michener; hardcover as Talking with Michener 1999; ebook edition 2013.

External links[edit]

-Biography at IMDB