A Writing Life – Pearl S. Buck


Seventy-five years ago today, Pearl Buck became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The king of Sweden gave her the award at a ceremony on December 10, 1938 in the Stockholm Concert Hall.  It read:

“By awarding this year’s Prize to Pearl Buck for the notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture, the Swedish Academy feels that it acts in harmony and accord with the aim of Alfred Nobel’s dream for the future.”

Pearl’s most famous works, her “House of Earth” series, written in the 1930’s (The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided) are considered important works, making a significant literary contribution around the world.  The Good Earth was the best selling novel in the U.S. in both 1931 and 1932 and also won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. It still sells consistently today…Oprah Winfrey named it as one of her must-reads in 2004.

Pearl’s parents were missionaries in China in the early 20th century and Pearl married a missionary and lived in China until the mid-1930’s, when Japan’s war against China was reaching a peak and Westerners left.

I encourage you to read a biography of Pearl’s life (there is an excellent overview at Wikipedia.com), a life about as diverse and culturally rich as was possible in the 20th century. While certainly not a perfect life, there are lessons for authors to be learned from it.

  • She was well-read
  • She wrote about things most familiar to her
  • She wrote with a purpose
  • The causes that characterized her life work were consistent with her writing and visa versa.
  • She never stopped writing.  (She continued to write for 35 years after Nobel, never winning another award for her writing.)

Pearl Buck was truly a remarkable person, someone who lived the “writing life” to it’s fullest. While everyone is different, there are some principles to consider from her life, principles that Christian authors can emulate and earn that ultimate prize, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Have you read any of Pearl’s books?

8 Responses to A Writing Life – Pearl S. Buck

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    Pamela S. Meyers December 10, 2013 at 5:12 am #

    Wow, I haven’t thought about Pearl S. Buck in years, but I remember reading at least one of her books with I was probably in sixth or seventh grade. It would have been The Good Earth…maybe I read more than one. Anyway, I remember being totally caught up in the story. I’ll have to seek out that book again and see what caught that girl’s interest back in her preteen years.

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    Rebecca DeMarino December 10, 2013 at 6:13 am #

    Though I Have only read a few of her books, Pearl S. Buck is one of the author who made an impact on my life. I’ve read the Good Earth, A House Divided and America. She also wrote The Story Bible – I bought in 1971, published that year by Guideposts Associates, Inc. It says “published by arrangement with Bartholomew House Ltd.” This is not a children’s book (though excellent to read to children) but more for YA and Adult. I very much enjoyed her stories from the Bible. Thanks for the great post, Dan! I enjoyed reading about her and being reminded of her great works!

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    Cheryl Barker December 10, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    Thanks for highlighting Pearl Buck, Dan. I’ve read quotes of hers, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her books. Am adding The Good Earth to my to-read list right now.

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    sally apokedak December 10, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I read The Good Earth when I was in high school. Loved it. Because I had lived in Taiwan when I was little I loved the cadence of the writing. I could hear the people speaking and it made me want to go back home to Taiwan.

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    Pat Lee December 10, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    I remember The Good Earth as a book that made me feel the environment of the story. Great read.

  6. Avatar
    Pat Lee December 10, 2013 at 9:46 am #

    The Good Earth was a great read. I loved it.

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    Betsy Stretar December 10, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    Thanks for sharing these ‘life lessons’ which you extracted so well from this lovely lady’s life. They are well noted by this aspiring author. I’ve been writing in obscurity for several years …stretching to learn from others as I wrestle to find my voice amidst a sea of other voices. I appreciate you pointing these lessons out. They are well noted. I look forward to reading the biography of her life and her books as well. She sounds like someone we all would love to know in person….Very thankful we have books to help us get closer to the heart, life, and message of other interesting authors such as Pearl Buck.

    Thanks again. BS

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    Catherine Hackman December 14, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    I have read The Good Earth more than once. I gave it to my older daughter to read when she was in high school, and I will give it to my younger one when she is in high school. Thank you for this post.

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