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Notebook 1.A

James A. Michener's Primary Research Notebook
for his novel Centennial

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Scope Note and Description:
 
Notebook 1.A.  This notebook is the primary research notebook used by James A. Michener to collect his working notes for the writing of the novel Centennial.  The bulk of the Michener material relating to Centennial and the television mini-series based on the novel was received by the University of Northern Colorado between 1972 and 1978.  That material makes up the Centennial Series within the James A. Michener Special Collection. 
 
This notebook has been described by Michener, himself, in the following way:
 
  1.A was started on April 4, 1970, and shows the very beginnings of the idea.  With very few changes, the original outline of twelve chapters withstood all kinds of challenges and alterations.  (Obviously, an opening chapter was added, and a closing.)  The principal change was the switch in order of the chapter on railroads and the one on sheep.  Among the people the major change was the demotion of the black family and the elimination of the Chinese.  I did this because they seemed too parallel to the development of families in Hawaii.  Names did not survive so well.  Of the originals, only Lame Beaver, the last part of Calendar and Marquez lasted.  The vitality of the original idea, however, sketched out that first day, was remarkable.

 
The very first page in this notebook contains the notes Michener was writing about.  Four pieces of paper are pasted onto that first page.  They contain a list of chapters and events including "The Big Chunks" and lists of people including the names of some who did not survive including Willie Peters, Paul & Martha Lambert, and Hung Wo. 
 
On that first page, Michener also includes a statement on the origins of the novel.  Dated "7 IV 70," Michener writes:
 
  This morning I woke up with a complete novel outlined.  I had not thought of its subject since 1937, but now it stood forth in complete detail.
 
In that same note Michener also writes about naming the novel Centennial.
 
  The word Centennial must have reminded me of the Centennial State, and of an imaginary plains town of that name which has lived with me since 1937 when I first saw the Platte, might and grubby river.
 

If you look at Notebook 1.A., you will see material written and hand-drawn directly into the notebook, material written and typed on small pages, and writing in pencil, ink, and sometimes color-coded.

On two pages, the first and one other, there is visible discoloration due to the volatile adhesive (probably rubber cement)  Michener used to fasten material onto those pages.  In most other places it appears that Michener used a paste to attach material and that paste has not yet broken down after 30 years.

 
Michener's Research Practice
 
Michener's research practice was to live in the location about which he was writing and to collect as much information as was humanly possible. 

He would spend time talking and listening to people from all walks of life.  He would consult with experts.  He would ask questions.  He would read voraciously.  He would collect documents, music, photographs, maps, recipes and all kinds of other relevant material.  Michener had an incredible memory; he he would also take notes.  Often those notes would be jotted in a small pocket notebook.  Periodically, Michener would paste pages from those small notebooks (as well as typed notes, clippings and other things he had collected) into one or more larger notebooks.

 

Copyrights and Permissions information can be found at
The James A. Michener Special Collection 
University of Northern Colorado website

 
For information on the use of material from the exhibition web site or for any other request regarding material from either the James A. Michener Special Collection or the City of Greeley Museums or for information on the Colorado Digitization Program, please, contact the appropriate individual listed below:
 
James A. Michener Special Collection:
          Archival Services
          James A. Michener Special Collection
          University Libraries
          University of Northern Colorado
          Greeley, CO 80639, USA
          (970) 351-3035
City of Greeley Museums:
          Peggy Ford, Research Coordinator
          City of Greeley Museums
          919 7th Street
          Greeley, CO  80631 USA
          (970) 350-9219
Colorado Digitization Project/Program:
          Liz Bishoff, Project Director
          Colorado Digitization Program
          University of Denver, Penrose Library
          2150 East Evans Avenue
          Denver, CO 80208-2007
          (303) 871-2006

City of Greeley Museums images

Tessa J. Dalton Photographic Collection images

Centennial: The Evolution of a Novel

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Last Updated: April 25, 2007
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