Lt. Col. James A. Michener

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James Albert Michener

Birthdate: (90)
Birthplace: Doylestown, Bucks, Pennsylvania, USA
Death: October 16, 1997 (90)
Travis, Texas, USA
Place of Burial: Austin, Travis, Texas, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Edwin J. Michener and Mabel Michener
Husband of Mari Yoriko Sabusawa

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Lt. Col. James A. Michener

James Albert Michener (/ˈmɪtʃnər/; February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, 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.

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 entitled 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.


Michener wrote that he did not know who his biological parents were or exactly when or where he was born. He claimed 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, 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.

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 known as Colorado State Teachers College) in Greeley, Colorado), where he earned a master's degree. After graduation, he taught at the university 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 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 Ocean 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."

In 1968, Michener served as the campaign manager for twice-elected US senator Joseph S. Clark's third term run. Michener was later Secretary for the 1967–68 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention.

Writing career

Michener's writing career began during World War II when, as a lieutenant in the 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 in 1947, when he was 40. It became the basis for the Broadway and film musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948.

Michener tried his hand at television writing as well, but found no success in that medium. Among other things, 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. 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.

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. 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).

Michener's novel Sayonara is quasi-autobiographical.


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.

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, 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.

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. He was 90. He was cremated and his ashed were placed next to those of his wife at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, Texas. He is honored by a memorial headstone at the Texas State Cemetery also located in Austin.

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


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." Much of his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, was written on Espiritu Santo Island in Vanuatu.

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.

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 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

Main article: 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. 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

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.

The society's purpose is to provide the following:

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.

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


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Lt. Col. James A. Michener's Timeline

February 3, 1907
Doylestown, Bucks, Pennsylvania, USA
October 16, 1997
Age 90
Travis, Texas, USA
Austin, Travis, Texas, USA