Cover image for Talking with Michener
Talking with Michener
Grobel, Lawrence.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 269 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Reading Level:
970 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library PS3525.I19 Z67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



James Michener's vast work has intrigued millions of readers. Popularizing history, he wrote extensively about travel and covered broad areas of America in books such as Centennial, Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, and Chesapeake. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his first book, Tales of the South Pacific, which he wrote at the age of forty, and his books were made into television mini-series, movies, and musicals.

In conversations that took place between 1980 and October 1997, days before his death, Michener met with Lawrence Grobel at Michener's homes in Florida, Maine, and Texas, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. The two discussed topics of both a personal and professional nature and touched on subjects Michener avoided in his own memoir.

The product of these revealing discussions is Talking with Michener, the first full-length book of in-depth interviews with the famed writer.

In the thirteen chapters of the book, Michener explores sex, love, pornography, politics abortion, AIDS, plagiarism, sports, the current state of publishing, and the status of the artist in society. To Grobel, he reveals many personal milestones and struggles--his dialysis; the death of his wife Mari; his service in the war; his travels to the Antarctica and to Pearl Harbor on the 50th anniversary of the bombing; and his philanthropy totaling $120 million.

Speaking of literary matters, he tells how he wrote such sweeping novels, why he chose some subjects and avoided others, and how he might write a historical novel about California. He analyzes each of his books, chooses his favorites, and discusses his strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

To accompany the chapters that cover the writer's life and work, Grobel has written an intimate introduction about his long relationship with Michener, and Michener interviews himself in a revealing afterword. Through the pages of Talking with Michener, Grobel affords Michener's many fans a close portrait of unexcelled depth and discovery. Lawrence Grobel is a novelist and writer from Los Angeles. Among his honors are a fiction fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and a P. E. N. Special Achievement Award for his book Conversations with Capote. His articles and interviews have appeared in Playboy, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Newsday, Reader's Digest, Movieline, and Entertainment Weekly.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Two books from small presses take a look back at a giant of popular literature. One need not be a fan of the much-published Michener's huge historical novels or travel tales to enjoy Grobel's wide-ranging romp through Michener's strong opinions on writers and writing, American education, politics, women's and gay rights, and race matters. Grobel first interviewed Michener 20 years ago and revised recent interviews only months before Michener died in 1996 at age 90. Michener, a Quaker who wrote his first book while a Navy lieutenant in the South Pacific, once earned a living as a teacher and as an editor at now-defunct Macmillan before Rogers and Hammerstein's music made him famous. Michener was a self-proclaimed "women's libber," in touch with his feminine side from an early age, who declared writers an "aberrant" bunch. He was most influenced by Wharton, Dostoevsky, Dreiser, and Joyce Carol Oates, and suggested that racial politics govern even the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature. Michener's political and economic advice sometimes seems dubious, but readers will relish his insights into writing and writers. Silverman, a close friend of Michener's for half a century, purports to share "intimate, personal times" the two had and includes some of their letters. They met in 1947 at a gathering of "liberal" World War II veterans, and Silverman admits he had neither heard of nor read Michener's work at the time. Silverman says Michener "rarely talked about his work, but . . . never really stopped working." Silverman delves into Michener's liberal political causes (including an unsuccessful run for Congress on the Democratic ticket in 1962), his three marriages (the third, a "mixed" union with a Japanese woman at a time when feelings against such marriages ran high), and his prodigious philanthropies, though he was "personally frugal." A story of friendship with warts and all, Silverman reveals the complicated personality of a driven writer who also managed personal success with his friends, wives, students, and millions of readers. --Dale Edwyna Smith

Table of Contents

James A. Michener
Introductionp. ix
1 A Personal Agendap. 1
2 Way Ahead of My Generationp. 17
3 A Teller of Storiesp. 39
4 The Mystery of the Sexes 4p. 59
5 Eating Your Enemy for Manna & Other Tales of the Quite Specificp. 71
6 Mich the Witchp. 91
7 Portrait of a Writer: Guts & Posesp. 105
8 Assessing the Talent in the Backroomp. 127
9 Bobby Fischer, Jimmy Foxx, & the Deadly Flying Wedgep. 147
10 The Weight of the Worldp. 167
11 Awakening from the American Dreamp. 183
12 The Politics & Polemics of the Last Die-Hard Liberalp. 201
13 Sayonarap. 229
Afterwordp. 235
Indexp. 255

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