James A(lbert) Michener 1908–
American novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, essayist, and art historian.
Among the most popular American novelists, Michener is known primarily for his historic epics chronicling the events of a place and a people from prehistoric times to the present. He first gained attention with his 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories, Tales of the South Pacific, and has continued to enjoy success with such panoramic works as Hawaii (1959), The Source (1965), Centennial (1974), and Chesapeake (1978). Michener's unpretentious narrative style states, rather than demonstrates, the personalities and motives of his characters. He employs a great deal of well-researched information on the social, cultural, and historical background of his subjects, giving his books an encyclopedic quality. Despite their diverse topics, his books share a theme: the belief in the brotherhood of man along with a concomitant concern with overcoming prejudices.
Michener's books have had an uneven critical response. Early works such as Tales, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1953), and Sayonara (1954) were complimented for their pace and unity. The longer novels have been faulted for lacking those same qualities. Their time shifts, large casts, and the vast scope of events are regarded by some as impediments to any serious involvement with the stories. It is also suggested that better characterization would benefit his books. Michener's strength, however, lies in his narrative skill, which lends plausibility and readability to his accounts.
Regardless of critical appraisal, readers continue to put Michener's books on best-seller lists and keep them there. The most recent among these have been The Covenant (1980), a saga of the development of South Africa; Space (1982), the story of the space program; and Poland (1983), which follows that country's progress from early centuries to the present.
(See also CLC, Vols. 1, 5, 11; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; and Dictionary of Literary Biography; Vol. 6.)