More Great Thoughts: Pearl S. Buck

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(Host) As VPR continues to explore Great Thoughts of Vermont, commentator Mary Barrosse Schwartz examines the connection between author Pearl Buck’s ideas about thoughtful stewardship of the earth – and her life in Vermont.

(Schwartz) When asked about the source of her creative inspiration, author Pearl S. Buck once said “I don’t wait for moods. You accomplish nothing if you do that. Your mind must know it has got to get down to earth…”

That’s an interesting choice of words. Someone else might have said “brass tacks” but for Pearl Buck, “earth” was fundamental. It was a theme that was woven throughout her life and work.

Buck moved to Stratton, Vermont in 1950 to be near her friends, peace activists Helen and Scott Nearing, who had abandoned city life and were creating a back to the land movement in which living close to the earth was a basic tenet.

She shared their commitment to social justice and simple living. She also wanted to raise her children in a healthy, rugged environment. Buck spent the final decades of her life running a traditional village store in Bondville, then a restaurant in Danby, Vermont. She continued to live in Danby, until her death in 1973 at the age of 80.

Buck was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia in 1892. After just a few months, her missionary parents returned to China, where she spent her formative years, resulting in a world view that ultimately influenced a generation through her writings.

Over her lifetime, Pearl S. Buck wrote 100 books and published 70. One of them reflected the theme of “getting down to earth” in the title as well as the story. Published in 1932, her epic novel, The Good Earth, was about a poor family who worked the land in China. The book stayed on the best seller’s list for 2 years and won Buck the Pulitzer Prize. Six years later, she became the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel Prize presenter cited her humanity, saying Buck’s literary works “pave the way to human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries.”

She returned to the US from China in the early 1930’s, and campaigned for minority and women’s rights. During WWII, she fought the internment of the Japanese. She raised money for Chinese medical relief, and championed repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which restricted immigration to the US of Chinese citizens.

She was also the mother of a severely handicapped child, and adopted and raised 8 more children. She pioneered foreign adoption, founding the first international inter-racial adoption agency in 1949. In 1964, she founded the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, to provide health and educational opportunities for Amerasian children in 6 Asian countries.

Through her writing and her philanthropy, she fundamentally changed our perceptions of China and other Asian countries. She was an advocate for women’s rights, civil rights, and personal freedom. Her vision of humanity’s relationship to the good earth and the importance of the struggle to protect human rights reflected the values of Vermont as much in her day as they do now.

In East Dorset, this is Mary Barrosse Schwartz.

Mary Barosse Schwartz is a freelance writer who is researching and writing a book on healthy aging with her physician husband. She spoke from our studio at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.

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