Author James A. Michener’s “Centennial Country”

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AUTHOR JAMES A. MICHENER’S “CENTENNIAL” COUNTRY
Greeley & Weld County in Northeast Colorado

A Love Your Parks Tour Literary Story by Lisa D. Smith and Nancy J. Reid, as assigned by the assigned by the literary publicist team at Books Forward

Geography was more than creating a sense of place in Michener’s books. It was the main ingredient in character development. If you take a drive around Weld County’s farming and homesteading country and up into the rugged Pawnee National Grassland, you’ll get a taste of what inspired his critically acclaimed 1974 novel, “Centennial,” which tells the history of Colorado from the Mesozoic Era up to the early 1970s. “Centennial” was set in a fictional town based on a composite of Greeley, Sterling, and Fort Morgan.

Michener used his regional photography in his writing process, including in the writing of “Centennial.” He stated that “If I had not taken these photographs in 1936, and implanted them in my mind, studying them often when I was many miles away from Colorado, I would never have written the novel. It was the persistence of these images that kept the ideas vital…”

Along with his research and writing notebook for “Centennial,” you can see some of these photographs at the James A. Michener Library at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley where from 1936 to 1940, he served as an Associate Professor of Social Studies and also earned his master’s degree. 

He said of his tenure at the university, that “The lure was so irresistible that during the times I was in Greeley I met many of America’s greatest educators … It was a running seminar of brilliant ideas and clashing concepts, and I was richer for it.”

Though he only spent a few years in Colorado, Michener’s ties to the Centennial State remained strong.

The James A. Michener collection was created in 1978 when Michener donated thirty-seven linear feet of his papers, primarily related to his novel “Centennial,” to the University of Northern Colorado. Shortly before his passing in 1997, he designated the University of Northern Colorado the home of the bulk of his writing and publishing legacy. The Michener collection now consists of nearly 900 linear feet of materials that include research notes, manuscripts, galley proofs, and correspondence, as well as field notebooks, maps, photographs, and slides he collected while writing his novels.

From his baseball caps to magazine articles, a colorful postcard collection, books, photographs, and research papers, a walk around the James A. Michener exhibit at the James A. Michener Library is fascinating. You will come away understanding more about his writing process, travels, military service political career, and even a little bit about his private life. Heck, when we visited, we even saw a set of his dentures on display! 

For more information about the James A. Michener collection as well as visiting the James A. Michener Library, see: https://www.unco.edu/library/archives/james_michener_collection/

To learn more about Greeley and Weld County, and to plan a visit to the area, see www.VisitGreeley.org and www.DiscoverWeld.com

 


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