On Campus Staff
Friends and colleagues of Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist James Michener gathered on campus recently not to mourn his death, but to celebrate his life -- a life that, as one speaker noted, spread over the continents and almost over the centuries.
Texas Center for Writers renamed for the late novelist James Michener
A crowd of 250 met Thursday in the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery among the paintings he and his wife, Mari, donated to the University. UT administrators, a student of Michener's Texas Center for Writers, the center's director and a local presbyterian minister shared memories of the man who had made Austin and the University his home. A wind ensemble brass quintet played and musical interludes were provided by the University of Texas Chamber Singers.
UT President Ad Interim Peter Flawn announced that he and Chancellor William Cunningham would ask the board of regents to rename the Texas Center for Writers the James A. Michener Center for Writers. Michener established the center in 1992 with a $15 million endowment, just one of many gifts the couple made to the University.
In an important sense the world was James Michener's home, said Dr. William Livingston, senior vice president and a close friend of Michener's since his arrival in Texas in the early 1980s. "Of the seven continents, he visited them all, and he wrote about all of them except Australia and Antarctica," he said. "Jim was an eager and inrepid traveler, and the seven seas to him posed no obstacle. He sailed them every one, with the possible exception of the Arctic Ocean, and I would not be surprised if somebody came up and told me here today that he had actually sailed under the polar ice cap in a nuclear submarine."
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Michener's fiction, said Livingston, in addition to its readability, was the sheer scope of many of his books, over both space and time. "Centennial began, as I recall, in the Cenozoic, and another one actually began with the phrase, 'Some five billion years ago...' No doubt that historical reach helps explain the length of some of those books," Livingston said.
"Michener traveled far, in space as in time, and he wrote about most of the places he visited. I should warn you, Laura Mendenhall (pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church), that any day now, we can expect to hear from somebody up there that they have seen the page-proofs of a new 1,000-page novel called Heaven by James A. Michener," said Livingston.
Flawn called Michener "a great observer of the human scene who thought about what he saw and told stories of people and places through time. We are all very fortunate that he came and more fortunate that he stayed."
Michener had an insatiable curiosity that sparked a lifelong relationship with universities, Flawn noted. "He was an advocate of higher education. He taught at universities, he conducted research at them, and he bequeathed art collections to them. Jim was an active member of our community and he leaves an enduring legacy at this institution."