American novelist and short story writer James Albert Michener (1907–1997) was born on this day in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Abandoned by his parents, he grew up struggling with poverty and credits his foster mother for fostering his love of books.
"I've always been a sucker for a narrative," he said. "The great historical novels. I read all of (Honore de ) Balzac when I was 14."
Michener followed this passion for history by writing his own sweeping tales. Known for conducting extensive research ("total immersion"), his epic novels focused on specific geographical locations and historical facts across generations, whether Hawaii (1959), Chesapeake (1978), or Texas (1985), his many best sellers sold over 75 million copies in 52 languages.
"I never wrote anything that was published until I was 40," he said and won the Pulitzer for his first book of fiction, Tales of The South Pacific (1948). Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein turned the book into the hit musical, South Pacific.
Michener was a hard-working, disciplined worker. "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter," he once said.
In later life, Michener chose three words for his epitaph: traveler, citizen, writer. He said, "Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries."
As a philanthropist, he donated millions of dollars to universities in support of education and the arts. An expert on Japanese prints, he gave his $25 million collection--8,000 Japanese ukiyo-e wood-block prints in all-- to the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
"The people of Hawaii were so friendly," he said. "This is the greatest place on earth."
Words transport the spirit to the skies.