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James Albert Michener was raised as the foster child of Edwin and Mabel Michener. The exact date of birth is unknown, although many reference sources cite February 3, 1907, as the birth date. Michener grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and he attended Doylestown Grammar School. Michener attended Swarthmore College and graduated in 1929, with a degree in English and History (summa cum laude) and a Phi Beta Kappa Key.
Michener taught briefly at the nearby Hill School. He enrolled at St. Andrew's University in Scotland, and also studies art in London and Siena, Italy. Michener returned to the United States during the Depression, and taught at the George School, near Doylestown, from 1933 to 1936. In 1937 Michener received a master's degree from the Colorado State College of Education. He remained in Greeley, Colorado, and served as an associate professor from 1939 to 1942.
Michener served as a visiting professor at Harvard University from 1940-41, and in 1941 he accepted a position on the staff of the MacMillan Company in New York. He volunteered for service in the U.S. Navy in 1942, and served as naval historian in the South Pacific from 944 to 1946. During the course of the war Michener visited some fifty islands and began work on his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific (1947), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. The author returned to MacMillan as a textbook editor when, in 1949, the stage adaptation of Tales of the South Pacific, appeared as the Broadway musical "South Pacific." The successful Rogers and Hammerstein musical, and the subsequent movie, provided a share of royalties that enables Michener to devote all his time to writing.
In 1955 James A. Michener marries Mari Yoriko Sabusawa, his third wife. Michener has travelled the globe extensively and produced a string of best selling works. In 1962, after turning his literary attention to national politics, Michener ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania's Eighth District. Michener served as a member of the United States Commission on Information (1970-1974) and received the Medal of Freedom in 1977.