James Albert Michener was an orphan, adopted from the Bucks County, Pa. poorhouse by Mabel Michener, a Quaker widow. From there to Swarthmore, to the Navy, and then to Japan, making a hometown - and a novel - of every place he stopped. "Tales of the South Pacific" was his first, born of his Navy days and published in 1947, when Michener was 40. It won the Pulitzer Prize, was set to music, and became immortal.
The author himself was just another guest. "He was kind of a nondescript sort of a guy," said Gil Hause, a Colorado resident who worked with him on his 1974 book "Centennial." "He had a battered old straw hat, wore jeans and a flannel shirt, tennis shoes and was of medium-build.... But Jim was a man who had a very deep feeling for humanity."
After 50 years of writing; after giving over $100 million back to the arts and to the places he'd been; after a lifetime of being everywhere; Michener ended up in Austin, Texas, on a dialysis machine for his failing kidneys. A week ago, he ordered it disconnected; it was probably slowing him down.