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James Albert Michener ( ) (February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an Americanmarker author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which are novels of sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in a particular geographic locale and incorporating historical facts into the story as well. 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 his 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir The World is My Home, and Sports in America.


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 Doylestownmarker, Bucks Countymarker, Pennsylvaniamarker.

After graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude in 1929 from Swarthmore Collegemarker with a bachelor's degree in English and history, 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. He later taught English at George Schoolmarker, in Newtown, Pennsylvania, 1933–36, then attended Colorado State Teachers Collegemarker (now named the University of Northern Coloradomarker in Greeleymarker, Coloradomarker), earned his master's degree, and taught there for several years. The library at the University of Northern Coloradomarker is named for him. In 1935 Michener married Patti Koon. He went to Harvardmarker for a one-year teaching stint from 1939–1940 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 Naval Reserve. He traveled with the Navy to the South Pacific, which became the setting for his breakout work Tales of the South Pacific.

In 1960, Michener was chairman of the Bucks Countymarker committee to elect John F. Kennedy, and subsequently, in 1962, ran for the United States Congress, a decision he later considered a misstep. "My mistake was to run in 1962 as a Democrat 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 Collegemarker, where he played basketball, and joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He graduated with highest honors. He attended Colorado State Teachers Collegemarker (now named the University of Northern Coloradomarker in Greeleymarker, Coloradomarker), and earned his master's degree.

Writing career

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 Oceanmarker 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.

In the late 1950s, Michener began working as a roving editor for Readers Guide. He gave up that work in 1970.

Michener was a popular writer during his lifetime and his novels sold an estimated 75 million copies worldwide. His novel Hawaii (published in 1959) was based on extensive historical 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 that 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. It contains more than 2,500 entries from 1923 to 1995 including magazine articles, forewords, books and other works.

His 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.


He was married three times. In 1935 Michener 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 Canadianmarker 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, Texasmarker, and, aside from being a prominent celebrity fan of the Texasmarker 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.


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.

James A. Michener Art Museum

Opened in 1988 in Michener's hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvaniamarker, the James A.marker Michener Art Museummarker 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.

Books — fiction

Book Title Date Published
Tales of the South Pacific 1946
The Fires of Spring 1949
Return to Paradise 1950
Voice of Asia 1951
The Bridges at Toko-ri 1953
Sayonara 1954
The Bridge at Andau 1957
Hawaii 1959
Caravans 1963
The Source 1965
Iberia 1968
The Drifters 1971
Centennial 1974
Chesapeake 1978
The Watermen 1978
The Covenant 1980
Space 1982
Poland 1983
Texas 1985
Legacy 1987
Alaska 1988
Journey 1988
Caribbean 1989
The Eagle and The Raven 1990
The Novel 1991
South Pacific 1992
Mexico 1992
My Lost Mexico 1992
Recessional 1994
Miracle in Seville 1995
Matecumbe: A Lost Florida Novel 2007

Books — non-fiction

  • The Voice of Asia (1951)
  • Rascals in Paradise (1957 book)|Rascals in Paradise (1957)
  • The Future of the Social Studies ("The Problem of the Social Studies") (1939) Editor
  • The Floating World (1954)
  • The Bridge at Andau (1957)
  • Japanese Prints: From the Early Masters to the Modern with notes by Richard Lane (1959)
  • 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)
  • 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 World is My Home (1992) Michener's 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)


See also


  1. Biographical Sketch, James A. Michener Papers, University of Miami liberary

Further reading

  • James A. Michener: A Biography, 1985.
  • James A. Michener: A Bibliography, 1996.
  • Michener and Me: A Memoir by Herman Silverman; hardcover 1999, paperback 2003. Memoir by a long-time friend of Michener.
  • Michener: A Writer's Journey, 2005.

External links

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