Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck died Mar. 6, 1973, 40 years ago today. The legacy she leaves goes far beyond her much-loved books.
Pearl S. Buck was beloved by generations for her writing – particularly her novel The Good Earth and its sequels Sons and A House Divided. Her tales of the lives of Chinese peasants won hearts and helped illuminate a culture that was previously exotic and unknown to most Americans.
Buck wrote not just from her imagination but from experience – she was raised in China from the time she was 3 months old until she returned to the U.S. for college, and she went back to serve as a missionary for 19 more years after receiving her degree. As a child, she was educated bilingually, and she lived in a small village among the people she would later write about. She came to know them not as strange "others" but as neighbors and friends.
Buck's novels helped demystify a strange and faraway land, as well as its people. But she honored the people of China and other eastern nations with more than just her fiction. She was a strong advocate for adoption, focusing especially on international adoption. She was upset that Asian children were considered less desirable for adoption, and she sought to change that by creating Welcome House. It was the first international and interracial adoption agency in the U.S., and it's still active today. Welcome House was later joined by Buck's Opportunity House, which was formed to address children's poverty and discrimination in Asia.
Buck with granddaughter Susan on her lap and adopted daughters Joanna, right, and Mary Chieko in 1965 (Getty Images / The LIFE Pictures Collection / Pix Inc. / Reginald Davis)
Buck's legacy still resonates today. As the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, she inspires women writers of today – and the girls and young women who will grow up to write in the future. And as a humanitarian, she helped change popular perception of a foreign culture for good.
Written by Linnea Crowther