James Michener—by Glenda Bonham
James Michener was one of the most prolific authors of the 20th century publishing over 40 novels in his lifetime. Most of his works were fictional, lengthy family sagas covering the lives of generations in particular geographic locales and in- corporating solid history. He was known for his meticulous historical research behind his books.
His first novel was “Tales of the South Pacific” for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948. His first book was adapted as the Broadway musical “South Pacific” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and later as a feature film in 1958.
He went on to publish 26 other novels, all adapted to television mini-series or feature length movies such as “Centennial” starring Robert Conrad, a twelve-part mini-series about the lands and peoples of the Rocky Mountains. He also penned “The Drifters” that became a feature film and “Hawaii” written the same year the state was annexed. One of his most lengthy and successful novels was “Texas” with real and fictional characters spanning hundreds of years, such as explorers, Spanish colonists, American immigrants, German Texan settlers, ranchers, oil men, aristocrats, Mexican businessmen, and others, all based on extensive historical research. At 1,076 pages, it was the longest Michener novel published by Random House. Given the success of his previous novels, the company did a first printing of 750,000 copies, the largest in the company’s history. The novel was adapted in 1994 as a made-for-TV movie.
Michener became a ma- jor philanthropist, donating more than $100 million to educational, cultural, and writing institutions. He donated more than $37 million to University of Texas at Austin. By 1992, his gifts made him UT Austin’s largest single donor to that time.
He could have lived out his retirement years at any location, but chose Austin, Texas as his last home. He passed away in 1997 at the age of 90 and his remains rest in Austin.