James Michener was born in New York City (1907). His parents abandoned him soon after he was born, and he was raised by a poor widow named Mabel Michener. His foster mother read him Dickens and Balzac, and he grew to love their thick, old-fashioned novels.
Michener worked at a series of teaching and editing jobs until he was 36 years old. Then, in 1943, he enlisted in the Navy, and the next year he was sent to the South Pacific.
One night, after he almost crashed his plane, he couldn’t sleep and went for a walk along the airstrip of his ship. It was then that he decided that if he made it back home, he was going to quit his job as an editor and become a writer. He later remembered thinking, “When this is over, I’m not going to be the same guy. I’m going to live as if I were a great man.”
He came up with the idea for a series of stories about the war called Tales of the South Pacific(1947). He said he wanted to show young men what life in the military was really like. He stayed up late at night and typed it out on old envelopes and the backs of old letters from home.
When he got back to the States, he gave the papers to a publisher at Random House without retyping it. They published it, and Tales of the South Pacific won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. Two years later, Rodgers and Hammerstein made it into the musical South Pacific, and it made so much money that Michener was able to devote the rest of his life to writing.
Michener sold more than 75 million books in his lifetime. He has written novels about Israel, Colorado, Spain, Maryland’s Eastern Shore, South Africa, Poland, Hawaii, Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Most of his stories unfold across decades or even centuries, and include several pages of historical detail.
Michener said, “I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.