James A. Michener

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

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.
DiedOctober 16, 1997(1997-10-16) (aged 90)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, philanthropist
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksTales of the South Pacific (1946)
Notable awards1948: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
1977: Presidential Medal of Freedom
2008: Honorary portrait image on a United States postage stamp
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.
DiedOctober 16, 1997(1997-10-16) (aged 90)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
OccupationNovelist, short story writer, philanthropist
GenreHistorical fiction
Notable worksTales of the South Pacific (1946)
Notable awards1948: 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 family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work.[2]

Michener's fiction 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 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]


Michener wrote that he did not know who his biological parents were or exactly when or where he was born.[2] He claimed 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 degrees in English and psychology, he traveled and studied in Europe for two years.[4]

Michener then 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, then attended University of Northern Colorado (then called Colorado State Teachers College) in Greeley, Colorado), where he earned a master's degree.[3] After graduation, he taught there for several years. The library at the University of Northern Colorado is named after him.

In 1935, Michener married Patti Koon. He went to Harvard 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 missions that were assigned him because his base commanders mistakenly thought his father was Admiral Marc Mitscher.[5] His travels became the setting for 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 became the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein.[7] Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948.

Michener tried television writing as well, but was unsuccessful. American television producer Bob Mann wanted James Michener to co-create a weekly anthology series from Tales of the South Pacific, with Michener as narrator. Rodgers and Hammerstein, however, owned all dramatic rights to the novel and did not give up 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. 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 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.[citation needed]


Michener was married three times. In 1935, he married Patti Koon. In 1948, he divorced Koon and married his second wife, Vange Nord. Michener met his third wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, at a luncheon in Chicago; they married in 1955 (the same year he and Nord divorced).[11]

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


Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned. Over the years, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa Michener played a major role in directing her husband's donations which totaled more than US$100 million. Among the beneficiaries were the University of Texas at Austin, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and Swarthmore College.[12]

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.[13]

Final years and death[edit]

In his final years, Michener lived in Austin, Texas, where he and his wife endowed the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin which provides Michener Fellowship scholarships to students accepted to the university's MFA in Writing graduate degree writing program.[14][15]

In October 1997, Michener ended the daily dialysis treatment that had kept him alive for four years.

On October 16, 1997, James A. Michener died of kidney failure.[2][7] He was 90. He was cremated and his ashes were placed next to those of his wife at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, Texas.[16] He is honored by a memorial headstone at the Texas State Cemetery also located in Austin.[17]

Michener left most of his estate and the copyrights of his books to Swarthmore College.[18]


On August 1, 1994, Michener endorsed the naming of "Michener's" for the restaurant at Iririki Island Resort, Port Vila, Vanuatu, and in his letter of endorsement wrote: "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] Much of his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, was written on Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu.[citation needed]

On the evening of September 14, 1998, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore named one of their suites after the author, in memory of his patronage and passion for the hotel. Michener first stayed at the Singapore hotel just after World War II in 1949, and in an interview a decade before his death, he said it was a luxury for him, a young man, to stay at the Raffles Hotel back then, and had the time of his life. It was officially christened by Steven J. Green, then Ambassador of United States to Singapore, who noted the writer's penchant of describing 'faraway places with strange-sounding names' to his American book readers.

Michener's last stay at the Raffles Hotel was in 1985 when he came to Singapore for the launch of the book Salute to Singapore, for which he wrote the foreword. He was so fond of his last stay in Raffles that he took the hotel room key home with him as a souvenir. The suite contains a selection of Michener's works, like Caribbean, The Drifters, and Hawaii, as well as two photographic portraits of the author taken at the hotel and in Chinatown in 1985. After his death, the Michener estate corresponded with the hotel management to return the room key, and from there the idea to name the hotel room after him, came into fruition. The souvenir key was duly returned to the hotel, and now on display in the Raffles Hotel Museum.[7]

On May 12, 2008, the United States Postal Service honored him with a 59¢ Distinguished Americans series postage stamp.[20]

The Library at The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, his alma mater, is named The James Michener Library in his honour.[citation needed]

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

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. 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.[21]

The society's purpose is to provide the following:[21]

The society accomplishes this through a number of activities[clarification needed] and an electronic newsletter that is published periodically. An annual meeting of members is held at locations closely associated with James Michener's life.[21]


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]

Book TitleYear Published
Tales of the South Pacific1947
The Fires of Spring1949
Return to Paradise1950
The Bridges at Toko-ri1953
The Source1965
The Drifters1971
The Watermen1978
The Covenant1980
The Novel1991
South Pacific1992
Miracle in Seville1995

Books — non-fiction[edit]

Book TitleYear PublishedNotes
The Future of the Social Studies ("The Problem of the Social Studies")1939Editor
The Voice of Asia1951
The Floating World1954
The Bridge at Andau1957
Rascals in Paradise1957
Japanese Prints: From the Early Masters to the Modern1959With notes by Richard Lane
Report of the County Chairman1961
The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation1968
Presidential Lottery1969
The Quality of Life1970
Kent State: What Happened and Why1971
Michener Miscellany – 1950/19701973
Firstfruits, A Harvest of 25 Years of Israeli Writing1973
Sports in America1976
About Centennial: Some Notes on the Novel1978
James A Michener's USA: The People and the Land1981Edited by Peter Chaitin; foreword by Michener
Collectors, Forgers — And A Writer: A Memoir1983
Michener Anthology1985
Six Days in Havana1989
Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome1990
The Eagle and the Raven1990
My Lost Mexico1992
The World Is My Home1992Autobiography
Creatures of the Kingdom1993
Literary Reflections1993
William Penn1994
Ventures in Editing1995
This Noble Land1996
Three Great Novels of World War II1996
A Century of Sonnets1997


The Bridges at Toko-Ri1953 film
Return to Paradise1953 film
Men of the Fighting Lady1954 film
Until They Sail1957 film based on a short story included in Return to Paradise
Sayonara1957 film nominated for 10 Academy Awards, won 4; including Best Supporting Actress, for Miyoshi Umeki the first and as of 2010, the only East Asian Actress to win an Oscar.
South Pacific1958 film
Adventures in Paradise1959–1962 television series
Hawaii1966 film
The Hawaiians1970 film
Centennial1978 TV miniseries
Caravans1978 film starring Anthony Quinn
Space1985 TV miniseries
James A. Michener's Texas
South Pacific2001 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 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. (1976-03-31). 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, p. 158; Bobbs-Merrill 1984
  9. ^ Hayes, p. 159
  10. ^ "James Michener Biography". Bookrags.com. Retrieved May 3, 2009. 
  11. ^ Biography at IMDB
  12. ^ "Death notice for Mari Yoriko Sabusawa Michener". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ "Journey Prize". 
  14. ^ "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. 
  15. ^ "The Michener Fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin". utexas.edu. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Cemetery and grave marker details for James Michener". findagrave.com. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Memorial headstone details for James Michener". cemetery.state.tx.us. Retrieved May 28, 2014. 
  18. ^ O'Neill, James (March 1, 1998). "Michener's gift keeps on giving". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  19. ^ http://www.iririki.com/dinning.html
  20. ^ Two American Legends Appearing on Stamps: The Postal Service Honors James Michener and Dr. Edward Trudeau.
  21. ^ a b c http://www.michenersociety.com

Hayes John Phillip, James A. Michener: A Biography, Bobbs Merril 1985


External links[edit]