James Albert Michener (February 3, 1907 - October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 books, most of which were fictional, lengthy family sagas covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating solid history.
His first book, Tales Of the South Pacific (1947) won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his books, and had numerous bestsellers and works selected for Book of the Month Club.
Michener wrote that he did not know who his parents were or exactly when and where he was born. He was raised by an adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and some have argued that Mabel was in fact his biological mother. He graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore College in 1929. He earned a Master of Arts in Education from Colorado State College of Education and went on to teach English, accepting a guest lecturer position at Harvard in 1939-1940 before joining MacMillan publishers as their social studies education editor.
His writing career began during World War II, during which, as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy, he was assigned to the South Pacific Ocean as a naval historian. His notes and impressions were later turned into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book, which in turn was the basis for the musical South Pacific.
After the War he was involved in politics, even running for Democratic Party candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, a decision he later considered a misstep. He was a member of the Electoral College as a Pennsylvania Democrat, later writing a book, Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System, published in 1969, and republished in 2014 and 2016.
Michener was married three times: to Patti Koon from 1935-1948, Vange Nord from 1948-1955. And Mari Yoriko Sabusawa from 1955 until her death in 1994.
Michener was a popular writer, his books selling over 75 million copies during his lifetime. He also became a major philanthropist, donating more than $100 million to educational, cultural, and writing institutions.
On January 10, 1977, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Gerald R. Ford.
The James A. Michener Art Museum opened in 1988, in Michener's hometown of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Constructed from the remains of an old state prison it houses collections of local and well-known artists, as well as two prominent permanent fixtures are the James A. Michener display room and the Nakashima Reading Room, constructed in honor of his third wife's Japanese heritage. The museum is known for its permanent collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings. The year before his death Michener pledged $5.5 million to the museum.
Michener died of kidney failure at the age of 90 on October 16, 1997.