James A. Michener Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111200959-Michener.jpg James A. Michener Published by Salem Press, Inc.

James Albert Michener claimed to have been born in New York City on February 3, 1907, although the actual history of his birth is obscure. Abandoned as an infant in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, he was adopted by a Quaker woman, Mabel Michener, who boarded children and who may have been his birth mother. She supported the children in her care by taking in laundry and by sewing buttonholes; James helped make ends meet as a child by working as a soda boy, paperboy, and hotel watchman. Nevertheless, the Michener family was evicted frequently, and James spent four months in the poorhouse. Mabel made these bad times bearable for James by instilling in her adopted son a love for books and music. He also acquired a sympathy for poor people and an admiration for hard work that resurfaced years later in his novels.

Michener was enrolled in Doylestown Grammar School but was overcome with wanderlust at the age of fourteen, an impulse that would remain with him. After bumming his way across forty-five states and staying with more than fifty families, Michener returned to high school and became a sports columnist and an amusement-park spotter at fifteen. Even though he was very active in basketball, baseball, tennis, and acting, Michener graduated first in his class and was awarded a scholarship to Swarthmore College; he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1929.

Michener continued to pursue his intellectual goals after college. A traveling scholarship, the Lippincott Award, sent him to St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. While in Europe, he also found time to collect rare songs in the Hebrides, study painting in Siena, Italy, tour Spain, and ship out as a seaman in the British merchant marine. Returning to the United States in 1933, Michener taught English for three years at a Quaker institution called George School near Philadelphia. After marrying Patti Koon in 1935, he became a professor at Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley. In 1936, he began his six-year tenure with the educational press, which marked the beginning of his writing career. In 1940, he became a visiting history professor at Harvard University and then a textbook editor at Macmillan in New York.

Michener’s promising career at Macmillan was interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After he enlisted in the Navy, Michener’s ability as a writer came to the attention of his superiors, and he was sent to officers’ school, where he was trained for service in the Mediterranean theater. Ironically, though, when Michener requested...

(The entire section is 1040 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In terms of book sales, Michener was one of the most successful American writers of the twentieth century. The immense popularity of his novels is made all the more amazing by the fact that the subjects of his novels are not in tune with what the public generally seemed to want. People read Michener’s novels not only to escape but also to learn. Each of his massive, epic novels reflects his obsession with geographic and historical detail.

Although his characters are, for the most part, stereotyped representatives of certain types of people, his most heroic characters embody those virtues that Michener has tried to cultivate in himself: hard work, courage, resourcefulness, and independence.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although standard references state that James Albert Michener was born on February 3, 1907, in New York City to Edwin and Mabel Michener, the facts of his birth are unknown; he was a foundling whom Mabel Michener reared from birth, moving at times to the county poorhouse to help the family through poverty and illness. On a scholarship, he attended Swarthmore College, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1929. For ten years, he taught at a variety of schools and universities, including the School of Education at Harvard, and in the early 1940’s he became an editor at Macmillan. He was a practicing member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and might have been exempted from combat, but in 1942 he volunteered for active duty...

(The entire section is 515 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111200972-Michener.jpg James A. Michener Published by Salem Press, Inc.

James Albert Michener (MIHCH-nur), although best known for his epic historical novels, also produced an impressive body of works on art, the social sciences, American politics, and international travel. Michener, who was a foundling, was born in either New York City or Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Taken in by Mabel Michener, a Doylestown widow, he was reared in poverty, at times being forced to live temporarily in the county poorhouse to relieve the financial pressure on his seamstress foster mother.

During the summer of 1921, Michener set out on a hitchhiking tour that took him through forty-five states. That fall he entered Doylestown High School, where his principal interest was sports. From 1925 until 1929, he...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)