Pearl Buck: Biography, Books & Poetry

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You may never have heard of her, or you might be quite familiar with the works of Pearl S. Buck. Either way, you can become more acquainted with the author in this lesson with a brief biography and an overview of some of her most cherished works!

A Heart with Many Names: A Brief Biography of Pearl S. Buck

Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (1892-1973) also wrote under her maiden name, as well as by the pseudonyms John Sedges and David F. Barnes.
Photo of Pearl Buck

Before she was recording culture and breaking glass ceilings, Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker was born June 26, 1892 at her family's home in Hillsboro, West Virginia. As the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, Pearl was only five-months old when the family returned to China. There, her parents chose to live among the rural people rather than in a compound. Thanks to this decision, Pearl's mother homeschooled her, immersing her daughter in the local language, philosophy, and culture. She also encouraged Pearl to write regularly, and at the age of six, Pearl published her first work in Shanghai Mercury.

In 1910, Pearl returned to the United States to attend Randolph-Macon Women's College in Lynchburg, Virginia. Here, she received her bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1914 and was asked to teach psychology. Pearl stayed on for only a semester before she returned to China, and in 1917, she married John Lossing Buck.

Three years later, Pearl gave birth to Carol, her only biological child. Due to the lack of knowledge on the condition at the time, Pearl's daughter suffered permanent brain damage from the effects of phenylketonuria (PKU) syndrome. The family had already been living in the U.S. in the mid-1920's so that Pearl could earn her M.A. in English Literature from Cornell University, and in 1929, they enrolled Carol in the Vineland Training School in New Jersey.

Pearl was worried about paying for Carol's education, so she decided to try her hand at writing professionally. Buck's first book East Wind, West Wind was not well-received by publishers; however, it eventually hit the shelves in 1930. Pearl's next book, though, The Good Earth, was a tremendous success and really placed her on the map as a world-class author.

Soon thereafter, the political climate in China became rather unstable, forcing the Bucks to leave the country in 1934. Regardless of having to leave the land she loved so much, Pearl continued to publish works under her Chinese name: Sai Zhenzhu ('precious gem-silk weaver'). At that time, though, relations were also strained at home, and Pearl divorced John the following year and married her publisher, Richard Walsh. The family then settled at Green Hills Farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where Pearl and Richard raised their seven adopted children and several foster children.

Before her death from lung cancer on March 6, 1973, Pearl S. Buck had been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and honorary degrees and had published hundreds of individual titles. Pearl also spent her life championing many different causes, as well - from the Civil Rights Movement to child advocacy. In her lifetime, Pearl Buck was not only a consummate mother, but a wildly successful novelist, essayist, teacher, and humanitarian. Hers was a big heart with many names, and it was indeed one that has touched many others. Take a look at some of Buck's works below to witness the impact she's been having on readers for nearly a century.

Some Books and Poetry by Pearl S. Buck

The Good Earth

This second novel by Buck is undoubtedly her most notable and familiar work. It chronicles the everyday struggles of a rural family in northern China and is a great representation of the effect spending so much time there had on Pearl's writing. The novel was published in 1931 and received the Pulitzer Prize the following year. In 1938, The Good Earth was largely responsible for winning Buck the Nobel Prize for Literature 'for the rich and genuine epic portrayals of Chinese peasant life,' making her the first woman ever to win both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes.

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