Authors: James A. Michener

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Tales of the South Pacific, 1947

The Fires of Spring, 1949

The Bridges at Toko-Ri, 1953

Sayonara, 1954

The Bridge at Andau, 1954

Hawaii, 1959

Caravans, 1963

The Source, 1965

The Drifters, 1971

Centennial, 1974

Chesapeake, 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

Mexico, 1992

Recessional, 1994

Miracle in Seville, 1995

Short Fiction:

Return to Paradise, 1951

Creatures of the Kingdom: Stories of Animals, 1993

Nonfiction:

Proposals for an Experimental Future of the Social Sciences: Proposals for an Experimental Social Studies Curriculum, 1939 (with Harold Long)

The Unit in the Social Studies, 1940

The Voice of Asia, 1951

The Floating World, 1954

Selected Writings, 1957

Rascals in Paradise, 1957 (with A. Grove Day)

Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern, 1959

Report of the County Chairman, 1961

The Modern Japanese Print: An Appreciation, 1962

Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections, 1968

Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System, 1969

The Quality of Life, 1970

Facing East: The Art of Jack Levine, 1970

Kent State: What Happened and Why, 1971

A Michener Miscellany, 1950-1970, 1973

About “Centennial”: Some Notes on the Novel, 1974

Sports in America, 1976

In Search of Centennial: A Journey, 1978

Testimony, 1983

Collectors, Forgers, and a Writer: A Memoir, 1983

Six Days in Havana, 1989

Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome, 1990

My Lost Mexico, 1992

The World Is My Home: A Memoir, 1992

Literary Reflections: Michener on Michener, Hemingway, Capote, and Others, 1993

William Penn, 1994

This Noble Land, 1996

A Century of Sonnets, 1997

Talking with Michener, 1999 (interviews; with Lawrence Grobel)

Edited Text:

The Hokusai Sketchbooks: Selections from the Manga, 1958

Biography

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.{$I[AN]9810000999}{$I[A]Michener, James A.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Michener, James A.}{$I[tim]1907;Michener, James A.}

James A. Michener

(Library of Congress)

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 attended Swarthmore College, graduating summa cum laude, with a bachelor of arts degree in English and history.

During his time at Swarthmore, Michener became a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers). This commitment is reflected throughout his subsequent writings. Even when he was dealing with the history of Japanese art, for example, his theme is likely to be a variation of the Quaker belief in human unity. In what he wrote, Michener was always the friend of the disfranchised; similarly, he was always the foe of bigotry, oppression, and intolerance.

After teaching at Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, from 1929 to 1931, Michener received a Lippincott Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to study and travel abroad for the first time. Before returning to the United States and to a teaching position at George School in Doylestown, Michener worked as a chart-corrector on a Mediterranean collier.

In 1936 Michener accepted the position of associate professor of education at Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, Colorado, where he also completed requirements for a master of arts degree (1937). From Colorado State, Michener went to Harvard University’s School of Education, where he was visiting professor from 1939 to 1940. From 1940 until 1949, he was a social studies editor at Macmillan. While at Macmillan, World War II began, and Michener enlisted as an apprentice seaman in the United States Naval Reserve. He was called to active duty in 1943 and one year later was sent to the South Pacific. Tales of the South Pacific, Michener’s first book and the one for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, was written during his time there.

Although his first book did not appear until 1947, Michener had actually begun his writing career before entering the Navy. Between 1936 and 1942, Michener published fifteen articles on teaching social studies. In one of these, “Who Is Virgil Fry?” (1941), Michener makes his point through a short story about a high school social-studies teacher. “Who Is Virgil Fry?” was reprinted several times in educational journals, but it is important primarily because it provides an early example of Michener’s use of fiction as a teaching device. This use is perhaps most obvious in Michener’s experimental work Return to Paradise, which alternates essays about Asia with stories designed to illustrate or amplify the essays. Even in his fictional works, however, Michener the educator is very much in evidence. Tales of the South Pacific, for example, was designed to teach the American public about the war in the South Pacific and about the impact of the war and the locality on American military personnel serving there. The Novel and many of his numerous short stories were designed to teach about the art and craft of writing.

Michener’s use of fiction as a teaching device is also evident in the epic novels for which he is best known. The first of these, Hawaii, was published in 1959. Considered by many to be Michener’s best novel, Hawaii is typical of those of its type which follow. Based on extensive research into the social, economic, cultural, and political history of a nation, state, or region, each of these novels attempts to evoke the unique flavor of that region by a recapitulation of its history. Michener took great joy in intensively studying the regions about which he wrote.

In addition to his novels, Michener published an impressive number of nonfictional works dealing with a variety of subjects. In Return to Paradise and The Voice of Asia his subject is Asia, while in Japanese Prints from the Early Masters to the Modern and The Modern Japanese Print his subject is Japanese art. He returned to his high school interest in his 1976 book Sports in America. Michener’s interest in politics and political issues is evident in Report of the County Chairman, an account of his political activities during the election campaign of John F. Kennedy, and in Presidential Lottery and Kent State. My Lost Mexico reports, with photographs, on the Mexico of the 1960’s. Pilgrimage: A Memoir of Poland and Rome also contains photographs and illustrations, and covers some more of Michener’s travels. With his novel, Miracle in Seville, classified as Christian fiction, Michener returned to his religious roots.

Several of Michener’s novels, including Tales of the South Pacific, Hawaii, Texas, and Space, have been made into movies, contributing to his success and the popularization of his works.

Despite his extensive research and a two-fingered typing style, James Michener was a prolific writer. By 1995 Michener, at age eighty-eight, had published more than forty books and was producing four or more magazine articles a year. Much of what he wrote was drawn from personal experience, so that a reading of Recessional, a novel about the aged living in Florida, also provides insights into Michener himself.

Although the popular response to Michener’s work established him as one of the twentieth century’s best-known writers, the critical response was mixed. While some critics argue that Michener had an innate feel for the mechanics of fiction, which allowed him to handle well the vast amounts of material generated by his research, others argue that he either depended too heavily on this research, expecting it to provide the novel’s flow, or smothered the flow completely under a mass of historical trivia. In general, those who find fault with Michener’s writing hold that he was a teacher rather than an artist and that he lacked the ability to flavor his prose with nuance or subtle, imaginative language.

Regardless of whether these criticisms are justified, it may be argued that Michener made a significant contribution to American literature. If the ultimate judgment is, as some insist, that his works in general lack depth, the fault may lie in the fact that, in his desire to teach, Michener sometimes offered too little because he attempted so much.

BibliographyDay, A. Grove. James A. Michener. 2d ed. New York: Twayne, 1977. Written from the point of view of one who knew and worked with Michener. Its excellent bibliography is limited, naturally, to materials published before 1977.Groseclose, Karen, and David A. Groseclose. James A. Michener: A Bibliography. Austin, Tex.: State House Press, 1996. A detailed chronology of Michener’s life, including the most important events, his publications, honors, awards, and his contributions to society, education, and politics. Contains a comprehensive bibliography about Michener and presents an informative synopsis of each of Michener’s novels, as well as a compilation of Michener’s works.Hayes, John P. James A. Michener. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1987. A helpful biography.May, Stephen J. Michener: A Writer’s Journey. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005. Michener’s own writing is used to paint a portrait of him as a journalist and popular writer who never achieved the literary acclaim that he craved. Includes 19 black and white photos.Michener, James A. The World Is My Home. New York: Random House, 1992. A memoir of Michener’s life and writing.Roberts, F. X., and C. D. Rhine, comps. James A. Michener: A Checklist of His Works. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. As part of the series on Bibliographies and Indexes in American Literature, Roberts and Rhine have compiled a comprehensive list of Michener’s writings. Excellent reference work that contains a selected, annotated bibliography.Severson, Marilyn S. James A. Michener. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Severson’s book, part of the series of Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers, presents a complete overview of Michener’s life, including his writing style, themes, ideas, and concerns. Also provides an excellent, detailed analysis of nine of Michener’s forty-eight books. Includes a partial bibliography of works by Michener, of information and criticism about Michener, and of reviews of some of Michener’s books.Shaddinger, Anne E. The Micheners in America. Rutland, Vt.: Charles Tuttle, 1958. Information on Michener’s parentage.Silverman, Herman. Michener and Me: A Memoir. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1999. Silverman, who first met Michener before the latter’s literary success, recounts his memories of over fifty years of friendship.
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