James A. Michener 1907–1997
American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, essayist, memoirist, and art historian.
For further information on Michener's life and career, see CLC, Volumes 1, 5, 11, 29, and 60.
With forty best-sellers to his name, Michener was thought to be one of America's most popular and prolific novelists of the twentieth century. Considered a master of epic narrative, he started life as an orphan and did not begin to write in earnest until he was in his forties. Michener became an avid reader as a child Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where he was raised by a poor Quaker widow. He graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College in 1929 with a degree in English literature, after which he taught social studies until 1931 when he won a fellowship to study in Europe. In 1940 he served as a visiting professor of history at Harvard's School of Education and published several scholarly articles for professional journals. While in the Navy in World War II, he was assigned as naval historian in the South Pacific. Later he submitted short stories he'd written during the war to Macmillan publishing house. These were published in 1947 as Tales of the South Pacific. Although not a commercial success, the book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and became the basis for the hit musical South Pacific. Michener continued to write travel articles, essays, and novellas, but became best known for monumental sagas that dramatized the social and political development of nations and regions spanning several generations. Critically acclaimed Hawaii (1959), was the first of these, and his first best-seller. The Source (1965), Centennial (1974), and Chesapeake (1978), were just a few of his other blockbuster successes. Michener imbued his protagonists with patriotism, frugality, common sense, and courage, qualities admired by his wide readership but considered trite to some critics. Some of these reviewers criticized his novels for their casual blending of fact and fiction, predictable plots, moralizing, and digression. Other critics, however, praised his ability to transport his readers to another time and place, and to expertly document historical events while entertaining them.