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Pearl S. Buck | Biography

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Early Life

Author Pearl S. Buck was born Pearl Sydenstricker in West Virginia on June 26, 1892. She moved to China for the first time at only five months old. Her parents, Absalom and Caroline, were Southern Presbyterian missionaries to northern China. Young Pearl spoke both English and Chinese and once wrote she was a girl caught between two cultures: the "small, white, clean Presbyterian world of my parents" and the "big loving merry not-too-clean Chinese world."

Education, Marriage, and Family

Until she was 42 in 1934, Buck spent most of her time in China. There were also brief periods back in the United States and one year in Japan (in 1927). From 1911–14 she attended Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. After earning her degree, she became a missionary like her father. She returned to China, marrying fellow missionary John Lossing Buck in 1917. From 1917–20 the couple lived in Anhui Province, which is the region Wang Lung is from in The Good Earth. From 1920–33 the couple stayed primarily in Nanjing where Buck taught English literature at the university.

Buck's daughter Carol was born mentally handicapped in 1920. Carol may have been the inspiration for Wang Lung's daughter "poor fool." In 1929 Buck returned to the United States to arrange long-term care for Carol. Buck met Richard Walsh, who became the editor of her first book East Wind: West Wind (1930). He also became her second husband (1935).

Writing Life

Buck spent 1930 furiously writing The Good Earth in her attic in Nanjing. The commercial bestseller was published to great acclaim in 1931. It earned her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. The Good Earth was so successful that Buck followed up with two sequels: Sons (1933), a novel following the trials of Wang Lung's three sons, and A House Divided (1935), a novel featuring Wang Lung's grandsons. The Good Earth trilogy and her nonfiction works about China were keys to her winning the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature. The Nobel Committee praised her "notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries." She was the first American woman to win this award.

Despite this international praise, the leaders of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–76) denounced Buck and her novels. When President Richard Nixon made his official visit to China in 1972, Buck was not allowed to accompany him.

Buck continued to write novels about life in China, most notably Peony (1948), a novel about Chinese Jews. She also wrote in other genres, including a nonfiction book about her daughter Carol called The Child Who Never Grew (1950). Under the pen name John Sedges, Buck released three novels that were later published together as the American Triptych (1958). She extended her literary explorations with plays and radio scripts. She also wrote the movie script for her 1962 novel Satan Never Sleeps about Communist tyranny in China. Buck wrote over 60 works before her death from lung cancer on March 6, 1973. Fittingly, her tombstone features her name written in Chinese characters.
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