Orphan - Best Seller - Philantropist
James Albert Michener 1991
Biography of James Albert Mitchener
James was born in 1907 in New York. He was then adopted by Mabel Michener and raised as a Quaker in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. There is very little information regarding his birth. Mabel and her sister took in children to survive, along with washing and ironing. Although the children were young Mabel read to them every night and her favorite was Charles Dickens. Later in his life, Michener would credit Dickens as his model and love of writing.
During his high school days, his best friend, Lester Trauch would serve Michner in his career of writing by editing his first book and Pulitzer prize winner, Tales of the South Pacific. Michener paid Trauch $100 each month and in his will, he made arrangements to continue those monthly payments.
Trauch was later quoted as saying "Michener was the poorest boy in school but the brightest. He was the only boy who wore sneakers so worn out that his toes stuck out of his shoes."
Michener told a reporter in a later interview "we never had a sled, a baseball glove, or a bicycle." It was some of these memories that would play a major part in Michener's character both in his writings and philanthropy.
Michener did not know his biological parents nor where he was born. It was not until he was nine years old did he learn of this. There was speculation that Mabel was his mother but this was never proven. Relatives of Michener's would not give him gifts saying "he was not a real Michener." These facts had to leave some emotional scars for him.
Michener's Higher Education
After graduation from high school, on a scholarship, he attended Swarthmore College 1925 to 1929 graduating in 1929 summa cum laude with a degree in English and history. He then spent earned his master's degree in education from the University of Northern Colorado. He also spent two years at St. Andrews College in 1943.
James A. Michener LtCdr. USN WW II
Michener's Service Record
Michener joined the United States Navy during WW II and was assigned to the South Pacific as a naval historian, and it was from this tour of duty that he began taking notes of the people, their customs, and lands. He would type on any paper he could find, using the backs of government papers and even envelopes. He would spend hours hunched over his typewriter pecking away with two fingers. Imagine typing 1000 words with two fingers! Now, remember, this was before tape recorders and computers. Perseverance at it's best.
And so, his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, was written and win the coveted 1947 Pulitzer prize. It later became the movie by Rogers and Hammerstein.
Michener's Meticulous Research
Michener was blessed with an almost photographic memory and only occasionally used a research assistant. He was meticulous with his research in developing his plots. His stories were actual history and detailed geographical information. His notes accumulated into large files to plot his books.
Michener's Top Ten Books
Here is a list of his Top Ten Books
Tales of the South Pacific
Return to Paradise
Bridges at Toko-Ri
Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in our Presidential System
The World is my Home
Awards Given to Michener
Many awards were given to Michener throughout the years, along with honorary several degrees.
Here are a few of his awards
Presidential Medal of Honor
Pennsylvania Society Gold Medal Award
St. Louis Literary Award
U. S. Navy Memorial Foundation Award "The Lone Sailor's Award
Key to the City Presented to Michener
Michener Museum located at 138 S. Pine St., Doylestown, Pennsylvania holds many paintings, memorabilia of Michener, a reading room dedicated to his wife Mari, an original manuscript of The Novel, his desk along with his books and music collection. Michener loved opera music and played it continuously.
Also on display is the key to Doylestown presented to him on May 9, 1985.
The Philanthropy of Michener
Throughout his life, Michener has given over $100 million for education, cultural, and writing institutions. He endowed the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He donated over 5,400 Japanese prints to the Honolulu Academy of Arts and some 300 paintings to the University of Texas.
James and Mari Michener
Michener and his wife Mari
Michener was married and divorced twice before he met Mari Yoriko Sabusawc (1920-1994) in 1954 and was married the following year. Mari was born to a Japenese farmer who had left Japan for a better life in Colorado. Mari and her family were among the thousands sent to the internment camps during WW II.
Mari and Michener affectionally called each other "cookie." She was his friend, his confidant and constant companion. Together they gave generously to various charities.
Mari died of cancer in 1994, and James died in 1997 after a long bout with kidney disease. He had been on dialysis for the last few years of his life till finally, he said, "I've done all I wanted to accomplish. It's time."
The Michener Society, formed in 1998, is for those who share a common interest in his life and work. Dedicated to preserving his legacy as a historian, public servant, patriot, and philanthropist, that future generations have full access to his writing. Membership dues for a new member are $12. per year for an individual