PEARL BUCK (1892 – 1973)
American Novelist and Humanitarian
Pulitzer Prize, 1932
Nobel Prize for Literature, 1938
I give you the books I’ve made,
Body and soul, bled and flayed.
Yet the essence they contain
In one poem is made plain,
In one poem is made clear:
On this earth, through far or near,
Without love there’s only fear.
Essence by Pearl Buck
GREAT ACTS OF LOVE
I view Pearl Buck, whom I started reading when I was twelve, as a sort of spiritual mother. You can imagine my joy then to find a copy of her one book of poetry in a used bookstore. It is the only book she wrote that I had not read. It sat dusty and torn and – while clearly once well-loved by someone – it was now hidden in an out-of-the-way place, untouched and unrecognized for its simple beauty.
In brief, eloquent, deft strokes, Ms. Buck’s poems do indeed express the great message of both her work as a novelist and writer and as a humanitarian …
“WITHOUT LOVE THERE IS ONLY FEAR”
Born on June 28, 1892 in Virginia, Pearl Buck was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up in China and spoke Chinese before she ever spoke English. She was a prolific writer with most of her books inspired by her experiences in Asia. In the 1920s, before the publication of her books, her stories and essays began appearing in influential American and Chinese publications.
Of Ms. Buck’s novels, The Good Earth is the most well-known. It was her second novel and became a best seller. She also wrote a number of nonfiction books including memoir and a cookbook. Her poetry collection, Words of Love, was published in 1974, a year after her death. It is now out of print. It is gracefully illustrated by Jeanyee Wong and was published by The John Day Company, the publishing firm founded by Ms. Buck’s second husband, Richard Walsh.
Throughout her career, Ms. Buck wrote heroically, acutely, and compassionately of women’s rights, immigration issues, mixed-race children, adoption… and, of course, China. She was blacklisted in the 50s for her political and social views. But Ms. Buck’s life was not just about words of love. It was about great acts of love.
Most of Pearl Buck’s humanitarian work was toward mitigating the poverty and discrimination suffered by children.Ms. Buck founded Welcome House, Inc, which was the first international interracial adoption agency. She adopted – if I remember correctly - ten children herself. Her initial efforts to help mixed-race children were inspired by their rejection in Asia, especially in Korea. There mixed-race children fathered and left behind by American soldiers were barred from any social, educational, and civic privileges, as were the mothers of mixed-race children. Today Ms. Buck’s books still stand as ambassadors of her love and humanity and as introductions to China before Mao.
© 2012, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved
Ms. Buck’s photograph is in the public domain.
Video posted to YouTube by asiasociety .