Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Professors, students, and Swarthmore community members gathered in Lang in celebration of the centenary year of James Michener’s birth. Frank Delaney, a journalist and radio broadcaster at the BBC, and currently a writer, spoke about Michener. Delaney feels that both his personal contact with Michener and his writing inspired Delaney’s latest novel Ireland. Dressed in his pinstripe suit with handkerchief carefully folded in the pocket, Delaney started off the lecture by stressing the grand nature of James Michener. He had a panoramic view of life and gave off the impression of being big and full of ideas. Mystery surrounds Michener’s true birth date and parentage, but we know that he grew up in a poor household with his adoptive mother in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Leaving home to travel the country at the age 14, Michener believed that these years on his own were some of the happiest of his life. Delaney emphasized that Michener’s love of people and passion to communicate with his audience stemmed from these early years abroad.
Delaney shared with us his method for testing good novels. One chooses a page at random. If that page entices, then one chooses another random page. A reader should do this a third time. If she is successful in all three attempts, then the novel is worth the read. Delaney always found this test to come out positive with Michener’s novels.
Not only did his novels allure the reader, they appealed to both sight and sound. Michener’s use of words and characters’ names like King Tamatoa from Hawaii provoke a reader’s ear while also sparking his imagination.
Although many authors resent being called simply storytellers, often the best writer is a teacher, a storyteller, and a magician. Delaney made sure to emphasize that Michener was all three of these things. Michener even referred to himself as a storyteller, and he taught for many years before he published his first novel at the age of 40.
He aimed for great, sweeping books that educate us and broaden our reading experience. Growing up in Ireland, Delaney said that much of his childhood was spent focusing on inner spaces and small details, like the flutter of a curtain. He learned from talking to Michener and reading his works, how to broaden his own writing.
Delaney ended the discussion by explaining how Michener loved to talk to and meet people but never wanted to feel like he belonged to anyone. He was an amazing observer, and Delaney feels that this Swarthmore alum has influenced so much of his work in the book Ireland.