English: Pearl Buck, Pulitzer Prize-winning American author (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Of all the writers West Virginia has given the world, none has been more famous than Pearl S. Buck. Best known for her novel The Good Earth (1931), and for her work for women’s rights, civil rights, and for Asian and biracial children at a time when women and people of color barely had a voice, Buck also showed an ability to walk back and forth between two cultures—America and China—in her work.
After her death, she became more of an obscure figure, but in recent years, scholars and others have been reevaluating her and her work.
Pearl S. Buck was born in 1892 in Hillsboro, West Virginia, to missionary parents. She spent most of her early life in China, where her parents worked as missionaries, and was immersed in Chinese culture, to the point that “for a time she did not know she wasn’t Chinese herself” (Ciuraru para. 3).
Later, this experience would influence her novels, including The Good Earth. She returned to the United States to go to college, then returned to China after she graduated. She later met John Lossing Buck, her first husband, whom she married in 1917. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”)
They had a daughter who suffered from PKU, and ended up mentally impaired as a result. They later adopted another daughter. Their marriage lasted until 1935, when they divorced. After her divorce, Buck married her second husband, Richard Walsh, with whom she adopted six children, making the total number of children she had eight. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”)
Buck returned to America in 1934 (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”), where she spent the remainder of her life. She also became well-known not only for her books such as The Good Earth, but for her activism on behalf of women’s rights, civil rights, and Asian and biracial children, including Amerasian children who were abandoned during the Korean war, through her establishment of Welcome House and the Pearl S. Buck Foundation. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”) She died in 1973.
Pearl S. Buck is important because her writings were among the first to break down barriers between the West and China where Western perceptions of the Chinese were concerned. Also, she showed Westerners—and especially Americans—that China was to be taken seriously; Kirkus Reviews states that Buck “can claim credit for the first popular, realistic portrayals of China in America” (para. 1).
Also, her writings show a writer who had empathy for her subjects and who could also identify with them, which was rare in Western portrayals of the Chinese—and of Asians period—during the early 20th century.
Buck is also important because of her status as a West Virginia writer; she was born in West Virginia, although she is best known as an international writer. In fact, her birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia is a museum, and one can visit it and see the place where she was born. To find out more about how to visit, the website for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace is http://www.pearlsbuckbirthplace.com/.
Finally, Buck is important because of her activism. As Mari Yoshihara states, she “was also passionately committed to the cause of social justice.” (168). In fact, her activities were such that it “led to an FBI file of nearly three hundred pages.” (Yoshihara 168)
Regardless, Buck’s legacy has left an important mark on the world, and on Western perceptions of Asia, hence on relations between the West and Asia, which are still felt to this day.
Trivia About Pearl S. Buck
–Pearl S. Buck’s full name was Pearl Sydenstricker Buck. Sydenstricker was her maiden name.
–Green Hills Farm in Pennsylvania, her final home and where she is buried, is on the Registry of Historic Buildings, visited each year by fifteen thousand people. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”)
–Buck’s novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize and the Howells Medal in 1935, was made into a film by MGM in 1937, and helped ensure that Buck herself would win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1938. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”)
–Buck received the inspiration for The Good Earth and her other stories of China from living in Nanhsuchou, or Nanxuzhou in Anhwei, or Anhui province, a rural province of China, during the first part of her first marriage. She later lived in Nanking, or Nanjing, before eventually returning to the United States. (“Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck”)
Ciuraru, Carmela. “Pearl Buck in China.” Rev. of Book.Christian Science Monitor 6 July 2010: 19. ProQuest Central. ProQuest Central, 6 July 2010. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.fairmontstate.edu/docview/578545589?accountid=10797>.
“Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography.” Kirkus Reviews. ProQuest, 15 Aug. 1996. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.fairmontstate.edu/docview/917213127?accountid=10797>.
“Visit The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia.” Visit The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro, West Virginia. The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and Museum, n.d. Web. 30 May 2014. <http://www.pearlsbuckbirthplace.com/>.
Yoshihara, Mari. Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. PDF.