Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pearl S. Buck in Schools and Universities Today

Pearl grew up in this home in Zhenjiang China and then
was a teacher herself, at the university there. 
All rights reserved by meckleychina
Do you study the life of Pearl S. Buck at your school?  

In a recent New Yorker article "Why is Literary Fame So Unpredictable?," Tom Vanderbilt uses Pearl S. Buck as proof that literary prizes do little to ensure the enduring reputation of an author, and asserts that her work is hardly read anymore.  I don't know how Pearl Buck stacks up against her contemporaries in terms of how much she is read these days, but Vanderbilt seems to have forgotten that The Good Earth, the best-selling, highly acclaimed novel that was most responsible for getting Pearl Buck all those honors back in the 1930s, received a huge boost in sales when Oprah's Book Club featured it in 2004.  
It seems to me that Pearl Buck is going through a bit of a resurgence in popularity.  Anchee Min has crafted a best seller out of her life story, Pearl of China, and just last month a filmmaker has obtained financing for a major motion picture biography.  My work at the Birthplace has obliged me to read or read again many things she wrote, and I can see why there is a resurgence of interest.  She was an engaged writer on the deepest level, tackling the most intractable problems of society at their starting point: the home, the family and the land.  Her work is permeated with a complex understanding of the manner in which society as a whole reflects the domestic unit, and yet at the same time the domestic unit is shaped by society.  She explores both the commonalities among us all, and the differences across cultures.  I had not understood the depths to which that was the case, until now.      

Even if we grant Mr. Vanderbilt his assertion that Pearl Buck is out of favor with the reading public, I am wondering how much she is still studied in academia.  We've had a few children come through the museum who were taking advantage of the proximity of the Birthplace to their home to learn about her in advance of a book report or special end of the year project.  (If you are one of them, or the parent of one of them, we'd love to hear how things went.  Drop us a line or send pictures, even video if you have it. Please indicate if you grant us permission to share the images online, as well.)  We also have classes come to the Birthplace on field trips from time to time.  

We are interested in finding out all we can about schools, colleges and universities that teach about Pearl Buck or that study her writing.  Whether your class read The Good Earth, you did a book report on The Exile, you dressed as Pearl Buck in a history pageant, you visited us on a field trip, or you wrote your Master's Thesis on American missionaries in China, if you or your children touched on the life and work of Pearl S. Buck in an academic setting, we want to hear about it.  It doesn't matter if it was in in Kindergarten... make that pre-k, elementary school or anywhere through graduate school, even post-Doctoral study.  In fact, we want to know about your research, even if you're a Professor Emeritus, semi-retired, or an independent scholar.  

When you tell us about your school projects, feel free to send pictures, media, copies of the assignment or whatever you you want to send.  We'd love to see them.  But if you do, make sure you tell us if it's OK to share those materials online, in this blog, on our blog, Facebook page and/or on our website.  Send email to or contact us via our website.  Thank you!  I look forward to your pictures.  

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