"If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life." -- James A. Michener
James Albert Michener () (February 3, 1907 — October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping 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.
Michener's major 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, and Poland. His nonfiction works include the 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 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.
"An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.""Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.""For this is the journey that men and women make, to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn't matter much else what they find.""I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.""I think the crucial thing in the writing career is to find what you want to do and how you fit in. What somebody else does is of no concern whatever except as an interesting variation.""I was a Navy officer writing about Navy problems and I simply stole this lovely Army nurse and popped her into a Navy uniform, where she has done very well for herself.""I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.""I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.""If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.""It takes courage to know when you ought to be afraid.""Russia, France, Germany and China. They revere their writers. America is still a frontier country that almost shudders at the idea of creative expression.""Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them.""The arrogance of the artist is a very profound thing, and it fortifies you.""The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life comes when dreams are surrendered to reality.""The really great writers are people like Emily Bronte who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination.""There are no insoluble problems. Only time-consuming ones.""They were a group of two dozen nurses completely surrounded by 100,000 unattached American men."
Michener wrote that he did not know who his 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.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude in 1929 from Swarthmore College in English and psychology, he traveled and studied in Europe for two years. Michener then took a job as a high school English teacher at Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. From 1933 to 1936 he taught English at George School, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, then attended Colorado State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado), earned his master's degree, and taught there for several years. The library at the University of Northern Colorado is named for him. In 1935 Michener married Patti Koon. He went to Harvard for a one-year teaching stint from 1939 to 1940 and left teaching to join Macmillan Publishers as their social studies education editor.
Michener was called to active duty during World War II in the United States Navy. He traveled throughout the South Pacific on various missions that were assigned to him because his base commanders thought he was the son of Admiral Marc Mitscher. His travels became the setting for his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.
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." Michener was later Secretary for the 1967—68 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.
Michener graduated from Doylestown High School in 1925. He attended Swarthmore College, where he played basketball, and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He graduated with highest honors. He attended Colorado State Teachers College (now named the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado), and earned his master's degree.
Michener's writing career began during World War II, when, as a lieutenant 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, published when he was 40 and the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948.
In the late 1950s, Michener began working as a roving editor for Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature. He gave up that work in 1970.
Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime; his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide. 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.
Michener was married three times. In 1935 he married Patti Koon. 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 quasi-autobiographical.
Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned, contributing more than $100 million to universities, libraries, museums, and other charitable causes.
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.
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. He soon died of kidney failure at the age of 90.
He was buried in Austin, Texas, and is honored by a monument at the Texas State Cemetery.
Michener left his entire $10 million estate (including the copyrights to his works) to Swarthmore College.
On the evening of September 14, 1998, the Raffles Hotel in Singapore named one of their suites after the illustrious 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 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. His last stay 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.
On May 12, 2008, the United States Postal Service honored him with a 59¢ Distinguished Americans series postage stamp.
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. The museum, constructed from the remains of an 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 Impressionist paintings.
In addition to novels, Michener was very involved with non-fiction, movies, TV show series and radio. This is only a major part of what is listed in the Library of Congress files. The category list would be very complex to add.