James A. Michener

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I am a humanist because I think humanity can, with constant moral guidance, create reasonably decent societies. I think that young people who want to understand the world can profit from the works of Plato and Socrates, the behaviour of the three Thomases, Aquinas, More and Jefferson — the austere analyses of Immanuel Kant and the political leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.

James Albert Michener (3 February 190716 October 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which are novels of sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in a particular geographic locale and incorporating historical facts into the story as well.

Quotes[edit]

I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.
  • In 1948 I addressed some students at Washington and Lee University, and in the question-answer period one young man observed with asperity, "But it's easy for you to write. You've traveled."
    • Return to Paradise (1951) First lines
  • I was a Navy officer writing about Navy problems and I simply stole this lovely Army nurse and popped her into a Navy uniform, where she has done very well for herself.
    • On a heroine in Tales of the South Pacific (1947) in Commercial Appeal (31 December 1951)
  • A group of two dozen nurses completely surrounded by 100,000 unattached American men.
    • On the heroines of Tales of the South Pacific (1947) in Commercial Appeal (31 December 1951)
  • On a bleak wintry morning some years ago I was summoned to the office of our naval attache at the American embassy in Kabul.
  • On Tuesday the freighter steamed through the Straits of Gibraltar and for five days plowed eastward through the Mediterranean, past islands and peninsulas rich in history, so that on Saturday night the steward advised Dr. Cullinane, "If you wish an early sight of the Holy Land you must be up at dawn."
  • Only another writer, someone who had worked his heart out on a good book which sold three thousand copies, could appreciate the thrill that overcame me one April morning in 1973 when Dean Rivers of our small college in Georgia appeared at my classroom door.
  • For some time now they had been suspicious of him.
  • Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.
    • Chesapeake (1978)
  • It was the silent time before dawn, along the shores of what had been one of the most beautiful lakes in southern Africa.
  • If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.
    • As quoted in Good Advice (1982) by William Safire and Leonard Safir. Original appearance in Holiday magazine, March 1956, pp. 40-51.
  • I was surprised when shortly after New Year's Day of 1983, the Governor of Texas summoned me to his office, because I hadn't been aware that he knew I was in town.
    • Texas (1985) First lines
  • Russia, France, Germany and China. They revere their writers. America is still a frontier country that almost shudders at the idea of creative expression.
    • "A Spelunker in the Caves of History" in Modern Maturity (August 1985)
  • The really great writers are people like Emily Brontë who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination.
    • As quoted in "The Michener Phenomenon" by Caryn James in The New York Times (8 September 1985)
  • The arrogance of the artist is a very profound thing, and it fortifies you.
    • As quoted in "The Michener Phenomenon" by Caryn James in The New York Times (8 September 1985)
  • About a billion years ago, long before the continents had separated to define the ancient oceans, or their own outlines had been determined, a small protuberance jutted out from the northwest corner of what would later become North America.
  • The chief character in this narrative is the Caribbean Sea, one of the world's most alluring bodies of water, a rare gem among the oceans, defined by the islands that form a chain of lovely jewels to the north and east.
  • I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.
    • As quoted in The Observer (26 November 1989)
  • I decided (after listening to a "talk radio" commentator who abused, vilified, and scorned every noble cause to which I had devoted my entire life) that I was both a humanist and a liberal, each of the most dangerous and vilified type. I am a humanist because I think humanity can, with constant moral guidance, create a reasonably decent society. I am terrified of restrictive religious doctrine, having learned from history that when men who adhere to any form of it are in control, common men like me are in peril. I do not believe that pure reason can solve the perpetual problems unless it is modified by poetry and art and social vision. So I am a humanist. And if you want to charge me with being the most virulent kind—a secular humanist—I accept the accusation.
    • Interview, Parade magazine (24 November 1991)
  • I had been sent to Mexico to cover a murder, one of a remarkable kind.
  • I feel myself the inheritor of a great background of people. Just who, precisely, they were, I have never known. I might be part Negro, might be part Jew, part Muslim, part Irish. So I can't afford to be supercilious about any group of people because I may be that people.

Hawaii (1959)[edit]

  • Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others… a mighty ocean, resting uneasily to the east of the largest continent, a restless ever-changing, gigantic body of water that would later be described as Pacific.
  • Therefore, men of Polynesia and Boston and China and Mount Fuji and the barrios of the Philippines, do not come to these islands empty-handed, or craven in spirit, or afraid to starve. There is no food here. In these islands there is no certainty. Bring your own food, your own gods, your own flowers and fruits and concepts. For if you come without resources to these islands you will perish... On these harsh terms the islands waited.
  • No man leaves where he is and seeks a distant place unless he is in some respect a failure.
  • It is difficult to be king when the gods are changing.
  • In later years, it would become fashionable to say of the missionaries, "They came to the islands to do good, and they did right well." Others made jest of the missionary slogan, "They came to a nation in darkness; they left it in light," by pointing out: "Of course they left Hawaii lighter. They stole every goddamned thing that wasn't nailed down."
  • Look, son, if you calculate on getting me drunk and outsmarting me, quit now, because you simply can't do it.
  • You love the Hawaiians as potential Christians, but you despise them as people. I am proud to say that I have come to exactly the opposite conclusion, and it is therefore appropriate that I should be expelled from a mission where love is not.
    • statement by Abraham Hewlett, in chapter "From the Farm of Bitterness"

Space (1982)[edit]

  • On 24 October 1944 Planet Earth was following its orbit about the sun as it has obediently done for nearly five billion years.
    • First lines
  • An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.

Poland (1983)[edit]

  • In a small Polish farm community, during the fall planting season of 1981, events occurred which electrified the world, sending reverberations of magnitude to capitals as diverse as Washington, Peking and especially Moscow.
    • First lines
  • No invader has ever conquered the heart of Poland, that spirit which is the inheritance of sons and daughters, the private passion of families and the ancient, unbreakable tie to all those who came before.
  • A Pole is a man born with a sword in his right hand, a brick in his left. When the battle is over, he starts to rebuild.
  • ...the crucial Battle of Zamość, which is not stressed in most current histories because it involved a Polish-Russian battle in which the Poles won.
  • Second, after a painful gap without any king, and a furious struggle by various foreign powers to elect men favorable to them, the Seym chose a pathetic Polish incompetent, who had the good sense to die rather promptly.
    • page 153
  • Silence, much more powerful than before, much more shot through with the meaning of life and the accumulated wisdom of history.
    • page 361
  • He had obtained a clearer view of his homeland by leaving it and seeing it through the eyes of others.
    • page 571
  • Leonid Brezhnev needed a haircut, so he went down to the ground floor of the Kremlin and plopped into the chair. It was understood that at such times the barber was to say not a word, just cut hair. But this morning, after a few snips he said: "Comrade Brezhnev what are you going to do about Poland?" No reply. Some minutes later: "Comrade Brezhnev, what about Poland?" Again no reply. Then, pretty soon: "Comrade Brezhnev, you've got to do something about Poland." At this Brezhnev jumps out of the chair and tears away the cloth: "What's all this about Poland?" and the barber says: "It makes my job so much easier," and Brezhnev screams: "What do you mean?" and the barber says: "Every time I mention Poland your hair stands straight up on end."
page 567
  • ...organizations like the church or General Motors promote a man up and up until he reaches a spot which he is obviously incapable of filling, and there they lay him to rest.
    • page 587
  • [The church's] job is to provide permanent solace and spiritual leadership to the people as a whole, whatever their government at the moment, so long as it stays within the bounds of moral decency.
    • page 591

Academy of Achievement interview (1991)[edit]

Interview, St. Petersburg, Florida (10 January 1991)

  • I don't know who my parents were. I know nothing about my inheritance. I could be Jewish; I could be part Negro; I could be Irish; I could be Russian. I am spiritually a mix anyway, but I did have a solid childhood fortunately, because of some wonderful women who brought me up. I never had a father or a man in the house, and that was a loss, but you live with that loss.
  • I do believe that everyone growing up faces differential opportunities. With me, it was books and travel and some good teachers. With somebody else, it may be a boy scout master. With somebody else, it will be a clergyman. Somebody else, an uncle who was wiser than the father. I think young people ought to seek that differential experience that is going to knock them off dead center. I was a typical American school boy. I happened to get straight A's and be pretty good in sports. But I had no great vision of what I could be. And I never had any yearning.
    My job was to live through Friday afternoon, get through the week, and eat something. And then along came these differential experiences that you don't look for, that you don't plan for, but, boy, you better not miss them. The things that make you bigger than you are. The things that give you a vision. The things that give you a challenge.
  • Not too many people work in a job where, waiting out there are three or four hundred people who are paid to tear apart what you've done. And often they are brighter than you are, or they know more about the subject than you do, or they wish they had written a book themselves, or done a lot better. Or they just don't like it! And you have to live with it. I have been very well treated by the critics in the long haul.
  • Things are going to go wrong, and I think we are false to life if we don't portray it. But there is also the hope that some lucky clown is going to come along and stumble into the gold mine. And I think you are also entitled to hold out that hope.

The World Is My Home (1991)[edit]

  • I am terrified of restrictive religious doctrine, having learned from history that when men who adhere to any form of it are in control, common men like me are in peril.

Quotes about Michener[edit]

  • Rice Krispies happens to be one of my favorite junk foods, just as I regard Michener as superior among junk writers.
    • Christopher Lehmann-Haupt reviewing Chesapeake (1978) in the International Herald Tribune (8 August 1978)
  • Mr Michener, as timeless as a stack of National Geographics, is the ultimate Summer Writer. Just as one goes back to the cottage in Maine, so one goes back to one's Michener.
  • Texas is … "trotting" journalism, history in a hurry.
    • Hughes Rudd reviewing Texas (1985) in The New York Times (13 October 1985)

External links[edit]

Wikipedia
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