Pearl S. Buck

Charleston Daily Mail
March 6, 1973

Pearl Buck Dies

Pulitzer, Nobel Author

Danby, Vt. (AP) - Pearl S. Buck, a daughter of missionaries, who won the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for her writings on China, died today at her home here. She was 80.

Beverly Drake, Miss Buck's private secretary, said the author died "quietly" about 7:25 a.m. today. She underwent gall bladder surgery last fall.

Born in West Virginia June 26, 1892, Miss Buck was raised in China and learned to speak Chinese before she learned English. It was that upbringing, she said, that influenced not only the subject of her writing, but her style as well. She spent most of the first 17 years of her life in China, returned to the United States for a stay and then worked as a Presbyterian missionary in China from 1914 until 1935. The Chinese government refused her requests to revisit the country last October.

She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for "The Good Earth," a book detailing the rise to power of a Chinese peasant hich was cited for "its epic sweep, its distinct and moving characterization, its sustained story interest, its simple and yet richly colored style."

In 1938 she became the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The award made special mention of two 1936 biographies - "The Exile" and "Fighting Angel."

Miss Buck had been in failing health in the past year, being hospitalized twice for extended periods.

Last July, she spent nearly a month in the hospital following a pleurisy attack and in October was hospitalized again for two months as she recovered from gall bladder surgery.

Mrs. Drake declined any comment on Miss Buck's death other than to say it had come "quietly." She added that in accordance with Miss Buck's wishes funeral services would be private and would not be in Vermont.

She said the family did not plan to say where the services would be held, but did say members of the family were considering a West Virginia burial.

A spokesman for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, Inc., in Hillsboro. W. Va., said today that private funeral services would be held in Buck County. Pa., "in order to be close to her children."

Of her scores of books, far the most popular was "The Good Earth," which reflected the development of modern China. It was translated into more than 30 languages. It was the basis of a play and a movie, which won an Academy award for Louise Rainer in 1937 and also starred Paul Muni.

Miss Buck cotinued writing throughout her life, turning out three books a year. She published five novels under the pen name "John Sedges."

For years she was among the top selling writers in America, but she said her largest public was in Europe.

In an interview in 1969, Miss Buck said that American critics tend to dismiss her "as a woman writer."

"American critics," she said. "accustomed to dealing with Amiercan [sic] writers, ought to face the fact that I am not a 100 per cent American writer. My concept of the novel is based on the Chinese novel, which has a simple, direct style. I read Chinese novels almost exclusively until I came to America to go to college." Miss Buck said she found most contemporary writers "boringly preoccupied with sex."

"I'm not moralistic at all," she said. "It doesn't shock me. It amuses me more than anything else."

Among her interests in recent years was her foundation to aid Asian children fathered and abandoned by American G I s. It operated in seven Asian nations and last September opened an office in Saigon.

For a time in 1969-70 it lost its license to solicit funds in Pennsylvania, but the license was restored after the resignation of its president. Mrs. Buck defended him as a man who has "done many wonderful things."

She contributed $1 million to the foundation herself.

Recently she purchased the house in Danby. Vt., a town which she had been trying to rejuvenate for several years by encouraging tourism, opening new shops and importing Asian gift items for local sale.

She said the admittedly commercial Danby project was motivated by a belief that "the life blood of a nation is fed from its villages."

Miss Buck maintained her interest in China. In an interview in January she said she believed the Chinese were ready for a different sort of leadership than that provided by Mao Tse-tung.

"There will be a dictator or possibly the start of a new empire, though not in one generation," she said. "But I look for a return of an empire, perhaps modified."

Born Pearl Sydenstricker at Hillsboro, W. Va., she was taken to China as an infant by her Presbyterian missionary parents.

At 17, she returned to America to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia, where she said she felt her life was as remote from the other students "as though it had been on another planet."

After graduation in 1914, she taught psychology at Randolph-Macon for a semester, but returned to China to care for her ill mother. Her mother recovered and the daughter resumed her teaching career in China.

In 1917, she married Dr. John Lossing Buck, an "agricultural missionary" and lived with him in a small town in north China in the region she described later in "The Good Earth."

After five years, they moved to Nanking, where she taught English literature at several universities.

In 1925, she returned for a year to America, where she and her husband studied at Cornell University.

Back in China, she began work on a novel, but the manuscript was lost in 1927 when she fled Nanking on an American destroyer after the city was invaded by Nationalist soldiers.

"I console myself in thinking it probably was not any good," she said later of the lost book.

Her first published novel was "East Wind, West Wind," which she submitted to a New York agent whose name she chose from a handbook. He placed it with the John Day Co., which published it in 1929.

Two years later came "The Good Earth" which was a best seller for 21 months.

The Bucks were divorced in 1935. Tha[t] same year she married Richard J. Walsh, president of the John Day Co. Walsh died in 1960 at the age of 73.

Miss Buck had one daughter, a retarded child, by her first marriage. She told the girl's story in a magazine article and book, "The Child Who Never Grew," in 1950, donating the proceeds to a training school and research into mental retardation.

Miss Buck adopted nine children. In 1949 she founded Welcome House for the care and adoption of American-born children of Asian ancestry. It operated two houses on the 400-acre farm in Bucks County, Pa., where she and her second husband lived.

She once expressed anger over a magazine article that described her as a "rich, lonely old lady."

"I am old, of course, but I'm not vain about it," she said. "I was brought up in China where age is honorable. And as long as I can work, I'm happy.

"As for being lonely, in the conventional sense, let me merely, say that I have nine adopted children, plus 12 grandchildren, and they all live nearby.

"I also have four Korean girls who live at my house while being educated in this country. My house is full all the time, and so is my life."

Miss Buck's latest book, "China: Past and Present," is being serialized currently by the Newspaper Enterprise Association, an organization which reported recently that Miss Buck had been turned down in repeated recent efforts to get into a China she has not known since the ascension of Mao Tse-tung.

The association said Miss Buck had received a letter. from Chinese authorities, relayed through a Canadian embassy, which said she was beind [sic] denied admission to the country, because her works have "for a long time... taken an attitude of distortion, smear and vilification toward the people of China and. their leaders."

Miss Buck would not comment on her failure to return to China.

In addition to the Pulitzer and Nobel awards, she captured a host of other literacy honors. Among them were the William Dean Howells medal, the Skinner award from the Women's Nat[i]onal Book Association, and Pennsylvania Award for Excellence, the Philadelphia Club Women's Award and the Memorial American Academy of Arts and Letters' Phi Beta Kappa honor.

Her West Virginia Heritage

The Old Hillsboro Home

By Larry Maynor
Of The Daily Mail Staff

Pearl S. Buck, one of the state's most outstanding natives, has died at the age of 80, leaving behind literary accomplishments and numerous acts of good will of which all West Virginians cab be proud. The Nobel Prize winning novelist, who in 1962 was named West Virginian of the year, always spoke fondly of her Hillsboro, Pocahontas County, birthplace.

"Had I been given the choice of place for my birth, I would have chosen exactly where I was born. my grandfather's large white house with its pillared double portico, set in a beautiful landscape of rich green plains and with the Allegheny Mountains as a background," she once said.

The 12-room home, built near the time of the Revolutionary War, is being restored by the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.

"Nothing would make me happier in the world than to see the house restored, not as a museum, but filled with life so that in a sense my mother's rich productive years could go on," she told an audience at Lewisburg three years ago.

When she was three months old, Pearl Buck's missionary parents took her to China where many of her literary talents were developed by associations and experiences she had there. She returned to her birthplace at age 9.

Later, after writings such as "The Good Earth," "Dragon Seed" and the story of the beloved "Peony" had won her worldwide acclaim, she was quoted as saying that West Virginia had a great influence on her life and work.

"I should say West Virginia affected me very much." she replied during an interview. "I have a strong sease that there are my beginnings. I have a very warm feeling toward West Virginia because my mother loved it so.

"In China she was always homesick and told me many stories of West Virginia. To me as a child growing up in a foreign land West Virginia was America."

Miss Buck said that her greatest regret was not living the life of the average American woman. Two of her happiest moments were when she stood before the king of Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize and when she sat before her television set and heard the astronauts of Apollo 8 end their message from space with: "God Bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

Pearl Buck, a deeply religious woman, gave large sums of money, which her books had brought, to help less fortunate people. In the 1950s she worried about the thousands of half-American children of American military men in Korea. She traveled across the country speaking to groups about the unfortunate and confused offspring.

Miss Buck was: graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Va., in 1914. She received a master's degree in English literature from Cornell University in 1926, and received many honorary degrees including a doctorate of letters awarded by West Virginia University in 1940.

She had written more than 50 books including novels, non-fiction, an autobiography and books for children. In 1933, she translated a Chinese classic by Shun Hu Chuan under the title "All Men Are Brothers."

Although Pearl Buck traveled the world, living in lands far different from this state she never entirely left West Virginia. The qualities for which she was admired were in part acquired from her West Virginia ancestors, who lived from its soil. Among those qualities perhaps one stands out:

A passion to live and think as they believed true, to use freedom rather than just praise it; a strong sense of independence, never forgetting the frailty of life and man's dependence on man.

Arts and Entertainment

West Virginia Archives and History