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James Michener dies at 90 after 40 best-selling novels

James Michener's second novel tells of a poor Pennsylvania boy who becomes a writer - an autobiographical touch from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who went from the Bucks County Poorhouse to the far reaches of the globe.

He spent decades wandering from Japan and Korea to Hungary, Hawaii, Afghanistan, Spain, South Africa, Colorado, Israel, Chesapeake Bay, Poland, Texas, Alaska and the Caribbean.Every step of the way, through 40 best-selling novels, Michener's readers were entertained and inspired as he argued for universal ideals: religious and racial tolerance, hard work and self-reliance.

Michener, who once admitted that he wasn't very good at composing dialogue but he sure knew how to hold the reader's interest with a good narrative, died of kidney failure Thursday at age 90.

"Jim Michener was America's storyteller," said Harold Evans, president and publisher of the Random House Trade Publishing Group. "He enlightened millions of people around the globe with the fruits of his labor during his stunning 50-year writing career."

His death came less than a week after he ordered doctors to disconnect him from life-sustaining dialysis treatments.

Michener was born Feb. 3, 1907, in New York City and was taken as an orphan to the poorhouse in Doy-les-town, Pa., where he was adopted by a Quaker widow, Mabel Michener.

His childhood was not one of privilege, "so that accounts for my social attitude - I'm a fiery liberal," he once said.

"I've never felt in a position to reject anybody," he said in a 1972 interview. "I could be Jewish, part Negro, probably not Oriental, but almost anything else. This has loomed large in my thoughts."

Michener's heralded writing career began in 1947 when he was 40, with "Tales of the South Pacific." The book, written during his tour of duty with the Navy in World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and was the basis for "South Pacific," a Broadway musical later made into a motion picture.

Michener wrote historical-geographic blockbusters, living in and absorbing the culture of the places about which he wrote.

During the Hungarian revolt in 1956, Michener was in Austria where some 20,000 refugees crossed to the West. He assisted dozens to safety, writing about the experience in 1957's "The Bridge at Andau."

By that time, Michener was living in Hawaii, where he worked seven years to produce "Hawaii." The novel appeared in 1959 as the islands became the 50th state.

Then Michener was in Afghanistan to write "Caravans" (1963); in Israel for "The Source" (1965); in Spain for "Iberia" (1968) and "The Drifters" (1971).

Between trips during the 1960s, Michener again was based in Pennsylvania, where he worked as chairman of the Bucks County Citizens for Kennedy Committee. He wrote about that experience in 1961's "Report of the County Chairman."

In 1971, he wrote "Kent State: What Happened and Why," a sympathetic account of the tragic student protests at Kent State University.

In 1974, he completed "Centennial," an epic tale of Colorado. It became a 26-hour television mini-series, the longest ever.

Then his attention shifted to the East Coast for "Chesapeake" in 1978, to South Africa and "The Covenant" in 1980, "Space" in 1982 and "Poland" in 1983.

Former Texas Gov. Bill Cle-ments invited Michener to profile his state in 1981 and offered the author a staff position at the University of Texas to help him. Michener made "Texas" his biggest book at 1,096 pages and Austin his final home.

He released his latest book, "A Century of Sonnets," earlier this year and reportedly was working on a book about his illness.

Michener will be cremated and buried alongside his wife. His funeral will be Tuesday in Austin. Memorial services are planned later in Austin and New York.