|Known for||Tales of the South Pacific|
|A.K.A.||James Albert Michener, James Michener|
|Was||Writer Military officer Novelist Screenwriter Autobiographer|
|From||United States of America|
|Field||Film, TV, Stage & Radio Literature Military|
|Birth||3 February 1907, New York City, New York, USA|
|Death||16 October 1997, Austin, Travis County, Texas, USA (aged 90 years)|
|Residence||Austin, Travis County, Texas, USA; Colorado, USA; Greeley, Weld County, Colorado, USA; Pennsylvania, USA|
James Albert Michener (/ˈmɪtʃənər/ or /ˈmɪtʃnər/; February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author. He wrote more than 40 books, most of which were long, fictional family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating detailed history. Many of his works were bestsellers and were chosen by the Book of the Month Club; he was known for the meticulous research that went into his books.
Michener's books 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; Poland; and The Bridges at Toko-ri. His non-fiction works include Iberia, about his travels in Spain and Portugal; his memoir, 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.
His first book was adapted as the popular Broadway musical South Pacific, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and later as eponymous feature films in 1958 and 2001, adding to his financial success. A number of his other stories and novels were adapted for films and TV series.
He also wrote Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System, in which he condemned the United States' Electoral College system. It was published in 1969, and republished in 2014 and 2016.
Michener wrote that he did not know who his biological parents were, or exactly when or where he was born. He was raised a Quaker by an adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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.
Michener talks about "hoboing" (riding freight trains for free) during the Great Depression, as mentioned in the 1998 Great Depression documentary on the History Channel.
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 Teachers College in Greeley, Colorado, (in 1970 renamed the University of Northern Colorado), where he earned a Master of Arts degree in Education. 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.
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.
Although as a Quaker, he could have qualified as a conscientious objector and not been drafted into the military, Michener enlisted in the United States Navy during World War II (1941–1945). 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. His experiences during these travels inspired the stories published in his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.
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."
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. Michener later served as Secretary for the 1967–1968 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. 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 and other more creative solutions.
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. 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.
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. 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.
Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime; his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide. 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.
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 (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.
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.
Michener met his third wife, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, at a luncheon in Chicago. An American, she and her Japanese parents were interned 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.
Michener's novel Sayonara (1954) is quasi-autobiographical. 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. In 1957 it was adapted into the highly successful movie Sayonara which starred Marlon Brando, James Garner, Miiko Taka, and Red Buttons; Buttons won the 1958 Academy Award ("Oscar") for best supporting actor for his performance.
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, 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.
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
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.
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. Michener was cremated, and his ashes were placed next to those of his wife at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, Texas. Michener is honored by a memorial headstone at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
Michener left most of his estate and book copyrights to Swarthmore College, where he earned his bachelor's degree. He had donated his papers to the University of Northern Colorado, where he earned his master's degree.
- In 1971, Michener was awarded the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement
- In 1981, Michener was awarded the St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates in St. Louis, Missouri.
- In 1993, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation awarded Michener its "Lone Sailor Award" for his naval war service and his literary achievements.
- In 1994, Michener endorsed the naming as "Michener's" the restaurant at Iririki Island Resort, Port Vila, Vanuatu. He 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.
- On May 12, 2008, the United States Postal Service honored him with a 59¢ Distinguished Americans series postage stamp.
- The Library at The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, his alma mater, is named "The James Michener Library" in his honor. On the mezzanine, there is a small display of his effects, including one of his typewriters.
- 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.
James A. Michener Art Museum
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. 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
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. 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. The society's purpose is to:
- 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
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.
|Tales of the South Pacific||1947||Pulitzer Prize winning collection of sequentially related short stories about 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.|
|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 influences that have shaped the people and landscapes of the state.|
|Caravans||1963||Framed through the eyes of an American diplomat looking for 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 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
|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 printmakers 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 and beliefs of William Penn, the founder and 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 written by Michener contains over one hundred poems written over a span of seventy-years.|
|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)|