Birthday: June 26, 1892
Died At Age: 80
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Pearl Sydenstricker Buck
Born in: Hillsboro
Famous as: American writer
Nobel Laureates In Literature
Spouse/Ex-: John Lossing Buck, Richard Walsh
father: Absalom Sydenstricker
mother: Caroline Stulting
children: Carol, Janice
Died on: March 6, 1973
place of death: Danby
U.S. State: West Virginia
education: Cornell University, University of Toronto Mississauga, Randolph College, Randolph-Macon College
awards: 1938 - Nobel Prize in Literature
1932 - Pulitzer Prize for
Who was Pearl Buck?
Pearl S. Buck, born as Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker, was an American writer most famous as the author of the best selling novel, ‘The Good Earth’ which won her a Pulitzer Prize. Though American by birth, she had spent almost half of her life in China and was raised in a bilingual environment. She is also known by her Chinese name, Sai Zhenzhu. A prolific writer, she published her first novel only when she was 39, but soon went on to write more than 70 other books, exploring a variety of genres. Buck chose China as the setting for the majority of her works. Her first novel, ‘East Wind, West Wind’ dealt with the themes of cultural understanding and acceptance while her second novel ‘The Good Earth’, revolved around the life of a family in a Chinese village before World War II. . She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces." Her body of work consisted of novels, biographies, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, drama, and children’s literature. She was also a humanitarian at heart and was committed to a wide range of issues like women’s rights, adoption, cultural values, immigration, and missionary work. As an adoptive mother, she established ‘Welcome House’, an international, interracial adoption agency which has placed several thousands of children in loving homes till date.
Childhood & Early Life
Pearl Sydenstricker was born in West Virginia to Caroline Stulting and Absalom Sydenstricker. Both her parents were Presbyterian missionaries who went to China after their marriage. She was one of the seven children born to her parents, of whom only three survived to adulthood.
She was raised in a bilingual environment and was taught both English and Classical Chinese. She was a voracious reader from a young age.
She went to the U.S to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1914. She also served for sometime as a Presbyterian missionary but resigned after some controversy.
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She returned to China and taught English literature at the University of Nanking and the National Central University from 1920 to 1933.
She started writing stories and essays for magazines like ‘Nation’, ‘The Chinese Recorder’, and ‘Atlantic Monthly’ in the 1920’s. She had also begun work on her first novel ‘East Wind, West Wind’, which was published in 1930.
In 1924, she went to the U.S for a short time and earned her Masters degree from Cornell University. In 1925, she returned to China.
In 1927, the political situation in China worsened and several Westerners were murdered. She fled to Japan and stayed there for a year before returning to China.
She now dedicated all her free time to her writing career and completed the manuscript for ‘The Good Earth’ within a year. The novel was published in the U.S in 1931 and went on to become a bestseller. The sequel to the novel, ‘Sons’ was published in 1933.
In 1933, she permanently left China and moved to the U.S. She went to Yale University and earned an additional master’s degree.
In 1935, she wrote ‘A House Divided’, the sequel to ‘Sons’. The three novels, ‘The Good Earth’, ‘Sons’ and ‘A House Divided’ form ‘The House of Earth’ trilogy.
Her career began to soar following the success of her novels and she wrote prolifically over the next few years bringing out one or sometimes even two novels per year. She published ‘This Proud Heart’ in 1938, followed by ‘The Patriot’ (1939), ‘Other Gods’ (1940) and ‘China Sky’ (1941).
The 1940’s were among her most productive years when she wrote many novels, non-fiction books, and stories as well. Some of her best known works from this era include ‘Of Men and Women’ (1941), Twenty-Seven Stories (1943), Peony (1948), and ‘Far and Near: Stories of Japan, China, and America’ (1949).
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In the 1950’s her published novels included ‘Imperial Woman ‘(1956) and ‘Letter from Peking’ (1957). Her non-fiction ‘The Child Who Never Grew’ (1950) was about her daughter Carol who was severely mentally retarded.
In spite of her advancing age, she never showed any signs of slowing down. Even during the 1960s she wrote consistently, publishing works like ‘The Living Reed’ (1963), ‘Death in the Castle’ (1965), and ‘The New Year’ (1968).
Her novel ‘The Good Earth’ (1930) became a U.S best seller and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. The storyline revolves around the life of a family in China before the World War II. The novel has been adapted into Broadway plays and a film.
The sequel to ‘The Good Earth’ was published in 1932. It was titled ‘Sons’ and dealt with the issue of how the sons of an old man manage his property after his death.
Her novel ‘China Sky’, published in 1941 focuses on themes like love, honor, and betrayal during wartime in China during the Japanese invasion. A film based on the book was made in 1945.
‘The Big Wave’ (1948) is a children novel which tells the story of how an orphaned boy who bravely faces many tragedies finds love and happiness again.
Awards & Achievements
She won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for her novel ‘The Good Earth’. The award is generally awarded to an American author for distinguished fiction dealing with American life, but in Buck’s case, it was awarded for her novel dealing with life in a Chinese village.
She won the Nobel Prize in Literature 1938 “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces".
Personal Life & Legacy
She married John Lossing Buck, an agricultural economist in 1917. They had one biological daughter who was severely mentally retarded, and one adopted daughter. The couple divorced in 1935.
She married Richard Walsh, an editor, in 1935. The couple adopted six more children. They had a loving marriage that lasted till Richard’s death in 1960.
She established the Welcome House Inc. (now part of the Pearl S. Buck International) in 1949 to promote international, interracial adoption of children—the first one of its kind in the world. The institution has till now placed thousands of children in loving homes across the world.
She died of lung cancer at the age of 80 in 1973.
She was the first American woman to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her former residence at Nanjing University has been converted to the Sai Zhenzhu Memorial House.
She was a pioneer in interracial adoption and had adopted two interracial children in the 1940’s when such a practice was practically unheard of.
The U.S Postal Services issued a postage stamp in her honor in 1983.