James A. Michener Quotes

James Albert Michener, 1907 – 1997

Born: 3 February 1907, Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania
Died: 16 October 1997, Austin, Texas

James Albert Michener was probably born on this day in 1907, the exact location is unknown. He was abandoned by his birth mother and raised as a Quaker by his adoptive mother Mabel Michener at Doylestown, Pennsylvania. He graduated summa cum laude from Swarthmore in 1929, traveled and studied in Europe for two years, taught English in Pennsylvania, earned his Masters at Colorado State Teachers College and taught there for several years, taught at Harvard for a year and then became social studies education editor at Macmillan Publishers. Although his religion exempted him from military service, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served as a naval historian in the south Pacific. Based on that experience, he wrote Tales of the South Pacific, his first novel, which won a Pulitzer for fiction. He is best known for sweeping, epic novels based on places, starting with Hawaii in 1959, and including such titles as Alaska, Texas, and Chesapeake. After campaigning for John F. Kennedy in 1960, in ’62 he ran for Congress, lost, and went back to writing. He traveled widely, researched diligently, and wrote big, fat, readable books (several were over 1,000 pages), selling over 75 million copies. This allowed him to give away over a hundred million dollars, mostly to universities, libraries, and museums. He spent his last years at Austin, Texas where he founded an MFA program for writers at the University of Texas. He had been on daily dialysis for four years when he elected to discontinue treatment and soon died of renal failure.

James A. Michener quotes:

A nation becomes what its young people read in their youth. Its ideals are fashioned then, its goals strongly determined.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener – Poland (1983)

A soldier lives always for the next battle, because he knows that before it arrives impossible changes can occur in his favor.
    James A. Michener – Poland (1983)

A writer can make a fortune in America, but he can’t make a living.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener – First line of Alaska (1988)

All I can do is play the game the way the cards fall.
    James A. Michener

Although most of us know Vincent van Gogh in Arles and Paul Gauguin in Tahiti as if they were neighbors – somewhat disreputable but endlessly fascinating – none of us can name two French generals or department store owners of that period. I take enormous pride in considering myself an artist, one of the necessaries.
    James A. Michener

An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.
    James A. Michener – Space (1982)

As a writer I have persisted in my uncertainty, alternating between novels which could charitably be considered literature and world reporting which by another stretch of objective standards might be called history.
    James A. Michener

Character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries.
    James A. Michener – Chesapeake (1978)

For this is the journey that men and women make, to find themselves. If they fail in this, it doesn’t matter much else what they find.
    James A. Michener

How do I change? If I feel depressed I will sing. If I feel sad I will laugh. If I feel ill I will double my labour. If I feel fear I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain I will raise my voice.
    James A. Michener

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 A. Michener – The World Is My Home (1991)

I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener – The World Is My Home (1991)

I can no longer take war or promotion or big income or a large house seriously. I reject empire and Vietnam and placing a man on the moon. I deny time payments and looking like the girl next door and church weddings and a great deal more. If you want to blame such rejection on grass, you can do so. I charge it to awakening.
    James A. Michener – The Drifters (1971)

I do believe that everyone growing up faces differential opportunities. With me, it was books and travel and some good teachers.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (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.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (10 January 1991)

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.
    James A. Michener

I had been educated with free scholarships. I went to nine different universities, always at public expense, and when you have that experience, you are almost obligated to give it back. It’s as simple as that.
    James A. Michener

I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great rewriters.
    James A. Michener

I have only one bit of advice to beginning writers: be sure your novel is read by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
    James A. Michener

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
    James A. Michener

I think the bottom line is that if you get through a childhood like mine, it’s not at all bad. Obviously, you come out a pretty tough turkey, and you have had all the inoculations you need to keep you on a level keel for the rest of your life. The sad part is, most of us don’t come out.
    James A. Michener

I think the crucial thing in the writing career is to find what you want to do and how you fit in. What somebody else does is of no concern whatever except as an interesting variation.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (10 January 1991)

I think young people ought to seek that experience that is going to knock them off center.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (10 January 1991)

I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.
    James A. Michener

I would suppose I learned how to write when I was very young indeed. When I read a child’s book about the Trojan War and decided that the Greeks were really a bunch of frauds with their tricky horses and the terrible things they did, stealing one another’s wives, and so on, so at that very early age, I re-wrote the ending of the Iliad so that the Trojans won. And boy, Achilles and Ajax got what they wanted, believe me. And thereafter, at frequent intervals, I would write something. It was really quite extraordinary. Never of very high merit, but the daringness of it was.
    James A. Michener

I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.
    James A. Michener

If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life.
    James A. Michener

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home.
    James A. Michener

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.”
    James A. Michener – First line of Return to Paradise (1951)

It is difficult to be king when the gods are changing.
    James A. Michener – Hawaii (1959)

It takes courage to know when you ought to be afraid.
    James A. Michener

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 other … 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.
    James A. Michener – Hawaii (1959)

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.
    James A. Michener – Poland (1983)

No man leaves where he is and seeks a distant place unless he is in some respect a failure.
    James A. Michener – Hawaii (1959)

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.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (10 January 1991)

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.”
    James A. Michener – First line of The Source (1965)

Public libraries have been a mainstay of my life. They represent an individual’s right to acquire knowledge; they are the sinews that bind civilized societies the world over. Without libraries, I would be a pauper, intellectually and spiritually.
    James A. Michener

Russia, France, Germany and China. They revere their writers. America is still a frontier country that almost shudders at the idea of creative expression.
    James A. Michener – “A Spelunker in the Caves of History” in Modern Maturity (August 1985)

Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them.
    James A. Michener

The arrogance of the artist is a very profound thing, and it fortifies you.
    James A. Michener

The decent thing to do is to get rid of some of this money.
    James A. Michener

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.
    James A. Michener

The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life comes when dreams are surrendered to reality.
    James A. Michener

The really great writers are people like Emily Brontë who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination.
    James A. Michener

The rules seem to be these: If you have written a successful novel, everyone invites you to write short stories. If you have written some good short stories, everyone wants you to write a novel. But nobody wants anything until you have already proved yourself by being published somewhere else.
    James A. Michener

There are no insoluble problems. Only time-consuming ones.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener – Academy of Achievement interview (10 January 1991)

Unless you think you can do better than Tolstoy, we don’t need you.
    James A. Michener

We are never prepared for what we expect.
    James A. Michener

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.
    James A. Michener

Writers turn dreams into print.
    James A. Michener

You have to be eligible for luck to strike, and I think that’s a matter of education and preparation, and character and all the other solid attributes that sometimes people laugh at.
    James A. Michener

Young people ought to seek that experience that is going to knock them off center.
    James A. Michener

Youth is truth.
    James A. Michener – First line of The Drifters (1971)

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