James A. Michener

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James A. Michener
Michener in 1991
Michener in 1991
Born(1907-02-03)February 3, 1907
Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 1997(1997-10-16) (aged 90)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, philanthropist, teacher, academic, naval officer and political advisor
Alma mater
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksTales of the South Pacific (1946)
Notable awards

James Albert Michener (/ˈmɪnər/;[1] February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 books, most of which were fictional, lengthy family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating solid history. Michener had numerous bestsellers and works selected for Book of the Month Club, and was 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, Space, 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 eponymous feature films in 1958 and 2001, adding to his financial success. He also wrote an analysis of the United States' Electoral College system in a book which condemned it, entitled Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System. It was published in 1969, and republished in 2014 and 2016.[3]

Biography[edit]

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.[4]

Michener graduated from Doylestown High School in 1925. He attended Swarthmore College, in 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 in the medieval town of St. Andrews, Fife on the coast of the North Sea for two years.[5]

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 Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, Colorado, (in 1970 renamed the University of Northern Colorado), where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Education.[4] After graduation, he taught at the university and at College High School (the University Lab School) for several years. The library at the University of Northern Colorado was named after him in October 1972.[6][7][8]

In 1935, Michener married Patti Koon. He accepted a Guest Lecturer position at Harvard, from 1939 to 1940, but left to join Macmillan Publishers as their social studies education editor.[4]

Michener was called to active duty during World War II (1941–1945) 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.[9] His experiences during these travels inspired the stories published in his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.[4]

In 1960, Michener was chairman of the Bucks County committee to elect Democrat John F. Kennedy as the 35th President. In 1962, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democratic Party 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."[4]

In 1968, Michener served as the campaign manager for the third-term run of the twice-elected U.S. Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania.[10] Michener later served as Secretary for the 1967–1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.[4] Also that year, Michener was a member of the Electoral College, serving as a Pennsylvania Democrat. He wrote about that experience in a political science text Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System, which was published the following year. In it, he suggested alternate systems, including using a direct popular vote by majority for the office of President of the United States.

Writing career[edit]

Michener began his writing career during World War II, when as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy he was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian. He later turned his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific (1947), his first book, published when he was age 40. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948, and Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it as the hit Broadway musical South Pacific, which premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1949.[11] The musical was also adapted as eponymous feature films in 1958 and 2001.

In the late 1950s, Michener began working as a roving editor for the Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. He gave up that work in 1970.[citation needed]

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 relinquish their ownership.[12] Michener did lend his name to a different television series, Adventures in Paradise, in 1959, starring Gardner McKay as Captain Adam Troy in the sailing ship Tiki III.[13]

Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime; his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide.[14] His novel Hawaii (1959), well-timed on its publication when Hawaii became the 50th state, 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 (1974), which documented several generations of families in the Rocky Mountains of the American West, was adapted as a popular 12-part television miniseries of the same name and aired on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC television network) from October 1978 through February 1979.[15]

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.[16]

Michener's prodigious output made for lengthy novels, several of which run more than 1,000 pages. The author states in My Lost Mexico (1992) 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]

Marriages[edit]

Michener was married three times. In 1935, he married Patti Koon. In 1948, they divorced, and the same year Michener 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 western camps that the U.S. government set up during the early years of World War II to hold ethnic Japanese from West Coast / Pacific communities. Michener divorced Nord in 1955 and married Sabusawa the same year. Sabusawa died in 1994.[2]

Michener's novel Sayonara (1954) is quasi-autobiographical.[4] Set during the early 1950s, it tells the story of Major Lloyd Gruver, a United States Air Force ace jet pilot in the Korean War (1950–1953), now stationed in Japan, who falls in love with Hana-Ogi, a Japanese woman. The novel follows their cross-cultural romance and illuminates the racism of the post-World War II time period. It also was adapted into a highly successful 1957 movie of the same name, starring Marlon Brando, James Garner, Miiko Taka, and Red Buttons, who won the 1958 Academy Award ("Oscar") for best supporting actor.[17]

Philanthropist[edit]

Michener became a major philanthropist, donating more than $100 million to educational, cultural, and writing institutions, including his alma mater, Swarthmore College, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the James A. Michener Art Museum,[18] and more than $37 million to University of Texas at Austin. By 1992, his gifts made him UT Austin'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 (1989), 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.

Final years and death[edit]

The creative team and star of South Pacific, L–R: Joshua Logan, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Mary Martin, and Michener (1949)

In the Micheners' final years, he and his wife lived in Austin, Texas, and they endowed the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. The Center provides three-year Michener Fellowships in fiction, poetry, playwriting and screenwriting to a small number of students.[19][20]

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, he died of kidney failure, at age 90.[2][11] Michener was cremated, and his ashes were placed next to those of his wife at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, Texas.[21]

Bequests[edit]

Michener left most of his estate and book copyrights to Swarthmore College, where he earned his bachelor's degree.[22] He had donated his papers to the University of Northern Colorado, where he earned his master's degree.[2]

Honors[edit]

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.[25]

Posthumous[edit]

James A. Michener Art Museum[edit]

James Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania

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 state 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. It comprises people who share a common interest and admirers of Michener's life and work.[29] The society sponsors a variety of activities and publishes an electronic internet newsletter. Annual meetings of members are held at locations closely associated with Michener's life.[29] The society's purpose is to:[29]

  • 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

Works[edit]

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 selection of the listings in the Library of Congress files.[citation needed]

Books — fiction[edit]

Title Year Published Description
Tales of the South Pacific 1947 Pulitzer Prize winning collection of short stories about the men and women who served in the South Pacific during World War II.
The Fires of Spring 1949 This coming of age tale follows orphan, David Harper, as he navigates life and love in America.
Return to Paradise 1950 Eight essays, each describing a South Pacific Island, and followed by a short story about that island.[30]
The Bridges at Toko-ri 1953 This short novel chronicles the lives of young, American servicemen fighting in the Korean War.
Sayonara 1954 Set during the early 1950s, it tells the story of Major Gruver, a soldier stationed in Japan, who falls in love with Hana-Ogi, a Japanese woman. The novel follows their cross-cultural Japanese romance and illuminates the racism of the post-World War II time period.
Hawaii 1959 This historical novel spans centuries of Hawaiian history, exploring the myriad of influences that have shaped the people and landscapes of the state.
Caravans 1963 Framed through the eyes of an American woman married to an Afghan engineer, this novel explores the cultural shifts in post World War II Afghanistan.
The Source 1965 In The Source, Michener recounts the origins and rise of Judaism starting with early Hebrews and carrying the reader all the way through to the modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Drifters 1971 The Drifters examines the lives of young travelers as they search for meaning in the post-Vietnam war era.
Centennial 1974 Centennial, one of Michener's most critically acclaimed novels, tells the story of Colorado, the Centennial State, from its geologic origins up to the 1976 Bicentennial.
Chesapeake 1978 This novel recounts the history of a Maryland coastal community in Michener's trademark style.
The Watermen 1978 An excerpt from his larger novel, Chesapeake, which was published by Random House the same year.
The Covenant 1980 From the pre-historic bushmen to British colonists, Michener traces the history of South Africa from its origins to the Second Boer War.
Space 1982 The lives of scientists, astronauts, and politicians intertwine in this fictional account of the United States Space program.
Poland 1983 Inspired by his travels in Poland, this Michener novel examines Polish history and culture from the 1200s up until the 1980s.
Texas 1985 In this book, which spans over 400 years, Michener chronicles the origins, history and culture of Texas.
Legacy 1987 Legacy presents a fictionalized account of the Iran-contra scandal through the eyes of a conflicted US Lieutenant Colonel.
Alaska 1988 This novel traces the background of Alaska from prehistory, through the gold rush, and into World War II.
Caribbean 1989 This novel explores the history of the Caribbean, telling of the arrival of Columbus, the days of the buccaneers, the rise of the Jamaican sugar plantations, and moves up to the problems of the present day.
Journey 1989 Journey, based on a chapter from Alaska, follows the trials and tribulations of a British mining expedition during the Klondike Gold Rush.
The Novel 1991 The Novel tells the story of a book, from its creation to publication, through the intersecting narratives of a writer, editor, reader, and critic.
Mexico 1992 American journalist, Norman Clay, arrives in Mexico not only to report on a duel between two celebrated matadors but to learn more about his family's past.
Recessional 1994 Recessional, Michener's final novel, presents the challenges faced by a doctor caring for an unusual patient in a Florida hospice facility.
Miracle in Seville 1995 Told through the eyes of an American writer, Miracle in Seville explores bullfighting culture in Spain.
Matecumbe 2007 Set in Florida, Matecumbe is a small, character-driven story detailing the relationship of a mother and daughter, both divorced and living parallel lives.

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 Voice of Asia, a compilation of fifteen articles published in 1951, presents Michener's personal experiences travelling through Asia after World War II.
The Floating World 1954 Michener, in the text accompanying these prints, details how Japanese printmakersers in the Edo period kept their art alive in the face of government restrictions.
The Bridge at Andau 1957 Michener chronicles the experience of hundreds of refugees, fleeing brutal persecution by the Hungarian State Security Police
Rascals in Paradise 1957 In this collection of short stories, Michener and Day present the thrilling tales of ten real life adventurers.
Japanese Prints: From the Early Masters to the Modern 1959 Featuring text written by Michener, this book presents sketches made by the artist Jack Levine during a trip to Japan.. Also features notes by Richard Lane
Report of the County Chairman 1961 Michener, who served as the Chairman of the Bucks County Citizens for Kennedy Committee, recounts the process of campaigning for John F. Kennedy in Pennsylvania.
The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation 1968 In this limited edition book, Michener provides commentary on ten works by Japanese woodblock print masters.
Iberia 1968 In this nonfiction travelogue, Michener explores the culture, history, and geography of Portugal and Spain.
Presidential Lottery 1969 Written in the run up to the 1972 election, this non-fiction volume examines the limitations of the US electoral system and proposes reforms.
The Quality of Life 1970 Michener presents his reflections and criticisms of US politics and culture in the 1970s as well as his recommendations for the future.
Kent State: What Happened and Why 1971 In Kent State, Michener investigates the 1970 shooting of unarmed college students by the Ohio National Guard.
Michener Miscellany – 1950/1970 1973 This compilation of essays features works by Michener published between 1950 and 1970.
Firstfruits, A Harvest of 25 Years of Israeli Writing 1973 Edited by Michener, Firstfruits collects outstanding Israeli short fiction from the first 25 years of the country's existence.
Sports in America 1976 In this non-fiction volume, Michener examines the phenomenon of sports culture in America and its inherent issues.
About Centennial: Some Notes on the Novel 1978 In this unique offering from Michener, he outlines the process of writing Centennial in this book distributed only to libraries and select booksellers.
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 reflects on early influences in his life in this limited edition book.
Six Days in Havana 1989 Based on his research trip to Cuba for his novel Caribbean, Six Days in Havana presents Michener's recollection of the vibrant people and landscapes he encountered in Havana.
Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome 1990 Part travelogue, part memoir, in Pilgrimage Michener recounts his travels to Poland and Italy and reflects on his relationships with Pope John Paul II, Stan Musial, and others.
The Eagle and the Raven 1990 Recounts the period in Texas history when renegade Sam Houston emigrated to the Mexican state of Tejas and helped lead the 1836 revolution against Mexican president Santa Anna
My Lost Mexico 1992 Michener recounts the process of writing and editing Mexico, a novel which he sat aside for 30 years before finishing it in 1992.
The World Is My Home 1992 The World is my Home, Michener's widest arching memoir, presents the writer's reflections on both his life and career.
Creatures of the Kingdom 1993 Collection of fifteen animal-focused segments from Hawaii, Centennial, Chesapeake, The Covenant, Texas and Alaska, and one original story.
Literary Reflections 1993 Literary Reflections, a collection of Michener's reminiscences, also includes the reprinted text of Collectors, Forgers—And A Writer and Testimony.
William Penn 1994 A monograph by Michener about the life & beliefs of William Penn, the founder & first governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,
Ventures in Editing 1995 In this limited edition book, Michener offers commentary on the writing and publishing process.
This Noble Land 1996 This Noble Land: My Vision for America, describes the nation's strength and weakness and the author's hopes for its future.
Three Great Novels of World War II 1996 A compilation of World War II novels featuring Michener's Tales of the South Pacific as well as Thomas Heggen's Mr. Roberts and Leon Uris' Battle Cry.
A Century of Sonnets 1997 This collection of poetry wrtitten by Michener containts over one hunbdred poems written over a span pf seventy-years.

Adaptations[edit]

Title Notes
South Pacific 1949 Broadway musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein based on the novel Tales of the South Pacific (1946)
The Bridges at Toko-Ri 1954 film based on the novella The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1953)
Return to Paradise 1953 film based on the short story "Mr. Morgan" in the collection Return to Paradise (1951)
Men of the Fighting Lady (also known as Panther Squadron) 1954 film inspired by Michener's Saturday Evening Post article, "The Forgotten Heroes of Korea"
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 2016, the only East Asian Actress to win an Oscar. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel Sayonara (1954).
South Pacific 1958 film based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in turn based on the novel Tales of the South Pacific (1946)
Adventures in Paradise 1959–62 television series created by Michener
Hawaii 1966 film based on the novel Hawaii (1959)
The Hawaiians 1970 film based on the novel Hawaii (1959)
Centennial 1978 TV miniseries based on the novel Centennial (1974)
Caravans 1978 film starring Anthony Quinn based on the novel Caravans (1963)
Space 1985 TV miniseries based on the novel Space (1982)
James A. Michener's Texas 1994 TV miniseries based on the novel Texas (1985)
South Pacific 2001 television movie based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in turn based on the novel Tales of the South Pacific (1946)

See also[edit]

References[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 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. ^ Michener, James (1969). Presidential Lottery. Penguin Random House. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "James Michener Biography". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Penn State University Libraries.
  5. ^ "Biographical Sketch, James A. Michener Papers". University of Miami Library. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012.
  6. ^ May, Kalen (October 30, 2012). "UNC Celebrating Michener Library's First 40 Years". University of Colorado.
  7. ^ 21
  8. ^ "Michener". Michener Library.
  9. ^ Michener, James A. (1951). Return to Paradise. Random House.
  10. ^ Beers, Paul B. (March 31, 1976). Pennsylvania Politics Today and Yesterday: The Tolerable Accommodation. Penn State University Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0271002385.
  11. ^ a b c "Get Me Michener at Raffles". The New Paper. Singapore. September 16, 1998.
  12. ^ Hayes, John Michael (1984). James A. Michener: A Biography. Bobbs-Merrill. p. 158.
  13. ^ Hayes, p. 159.
  14. ^ "James Michener Biography". Bookrags.com. Retrieved May 3, 2009.
  15. ^ "Centennial: The Complete Miniseries". DVDTalk.com. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  16. ^ "James A. Michener, A Bibliography". Amazon.com. Retrieved October 25, 2018.
  17. ^ "The 30th Academy Awards (1958) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  18. ^ "James A. Michener Art Museum". michenerartmuseum.org.
  19. ^ "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.
  20. ^ "The Michener Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin". utexas.edu. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  21. ^ "Memorial headstone details for James Michener". cemetery.state.tx.us. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  22. ^ O'Neill, James (March 1, 1998). "Michener's gift keeps on giving". Philadelphia Inquirer.
  23. ^ "Saint Louis Literary Award".
  24. ^ "Lone Sailor Award Recipients". The United States Navy Memorial. Archived from the original on October 16, 2015. Retrieved November 29, 2014.
  25. ^ "Michener's". iririki.com.
  26. ^ "James Albert Michener". Texas State Cemetery. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  27. ^ "Two American Legends Appearing on Stamps: The Postal Service Honors James Michener and Dr. Edward Trudeau". USPS.gov. 2008. Archived from the original on October 9, 2010.
  28. ^ "Michener Library". Libraries: UNC's Information Source. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  29. ^ a b c "Michener Society". MichenerSociety.com.
  30. ^ "20th-Century American Bestsellers". Bestsellers.lib.virginia.edu. Retrieved August 25, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dybwad, G.L. & Bliss, Joy V. & Michener, James A. (Contributor) (1995). James A. Michener: The Beginning Teacher and His Textboos. The Book Stops Here. (His formative school years with Michener's personal reminiscences.)
  • Grobel, Lawrence (1999). Conversations with Michener (hardcover titled Talking with Michener).
  • Groseclose, David A. & Michener, James A. (1996). James A. Michener: A Bibliography.
  • Hayes, John Phillip (1985). James A. Michener: A Biography. Bobbs Merrill.
  • May, Steven J. & Hemingway, Valerie (2005). Michener: A Writer's Journey. University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Roberts, F.X. (1995). James A. Michener: A Checklist of His Works, with a Selected, Annotated Bibliography. Greenwood Press.
  • Silverman, Herman (1999). Michener and Me: A Memoir (Hardcover ed.). (Memoir by a long-time friend of Michener's.)
  • Vavra, Robert (Photographer) (2006). Michener's The Name. (Photo essay and commentary on Michener's writing of Iberia in Spain.)

External links[edit]