Decades ago, on the southern end of Pocahontas County in the limestone valley known as “Little Levels,” a young girl sat on a bench reading Charles Dickens and sampling grapes from the vine-covered portico of her family home. She was inspired by the panorama of the Appalachian Mountains and now the manuscripts that she penned as an adult have found a new home, waiting to inspire a new generation.
West Virginia University, West Virginia Wesleyan College and the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation today (Oct. 30) announced that the three institutions would form a partnership to preserve and disseminate the legacy of Pearl S. Buck. As part of that agreement, a priceless collection of literary manuscripts by Buck will be coming to the WVU Libraries.
Born in Hillsboro to missionary parents, Buck became one of 13 Americans to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first of only two American women to do so. She was also the first American woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize and Nobel Prize in Literature. (Toni Morrison is the other in both instances.)
“As one of the two West Virginia Nobel laureates – 1994 economics Nobel laureate John Nash of Bluefield being the other – Pearl S. Buck occupies a special place in the history of the state and is a source of great pride for all West Virginians,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “Today three historic West Virginia institutions have come together to honor one of our own and share her unique point of view with the world.”
About the partnership
West Virginia was a special place to Pearl S. Buck. As a child growing up in China, it was the only America that she knew and she cherished the stories her mother, Caroline, told her about the home they left behind. Her memories were so closely tied to her birthplace in Pocahontas County that she was determined to restore and preserve the family home.
Similarly, Buck, who died just shy of her 81st birthday in 1973, wanted her collection of works to remain in the state. West Virginia Wesleyan was chosen to serve as the official custodian of the collection for nearly 45 years in partnership with the Birthplace Foundation.
“This is a very important day for the Birthplace Foundation and the literary history of West Virginia,” said Kirk Judd, president of the Birthplace Foundation. “We are glad to have helped make this happen and we look forward to participating in the exciting possibilities this new partnership holds for all three institutions, the state of West Virginia, Buck scholars from around the world and lovers of her legacy.”
The collection has traveled to a new home across West Virginia, but West Virginia Wesleyan and the Birthplace Foundation’s participation has not diminished. In fact, with the new partnership their participation will flourish.
Together, the three institutions have developed a robust plan to promote the collection, open it to the public for learning and research, and provide ambitious programming to stimulate Buck studies in West Virginia and beyond.
Click below to hear the WVUToday radio spot about Pearl S. Buck.
“West Virginia Wesleyan understands the importance of these papers,” said Barry Pritts, West Virginia Wesleyan College vice president for finance. “This partnership opens up opportunity. We are appreciative that we are participating in the sharing of these manuscripts and the development of activities surrounding it.”
“This collaboration opens up unique research materials to faculty, students and everyone around the world who wants to delve deep into Buck’s writings,” said Jon Cawthorne, WVU dean of libraries. “We will learn much more about her creative process from these manuscripts. I am delighted that our collaboration can inspire future scholarship on this exceptional writer’s work.”
The activities will focus on two areas. The goal of the first area – scholarly outreach and programs for faculty, students and the community – is to broaden academic programming around Buck’s collected works. An advisory committee will guide the planning and implementation of these activities.
“The opportunity to think about and work with Buck’s actual papers is the value-added piece of studying on campus at WVU,” said Melanie Page, WVU assistant vice president for creative and scholarly activities. “Working through and with her life’s work can and will change student life trajectories.”
WVU and West Virginia Wesleyan will establish an undergraduate studies program for students across the state while creative writing graduate students at both schools will have the opportunity to learn more about Buck’s writings through access to the archives and the birthplace.
Faculty initiatives will include the opportunity for travel grants and other support for visiting researchers and scholars.
“Pearl S. Buck International is keenly aware of the significant contributions an organization can make through proper stewardship of its archival holdings and by making them available for scholarly research,” said Teresa (Teri) Mandic, vice president of programs, Pearl S. Buck International. “We will lend our assistance with the development of programming that will stimulate awareness and understanding of the invaluable contributions Buck made and help carry forward her dreams of uniting communities and individuals through an appreciation of each person’s cultural heritage.”
A biennial “Living Gateway” conference will be established consistent with the mission of the Birthplace Foundation – that the birthplace should be a “living gateway to new thoughts and dreams and ways of life.” The conference will alternate between WVU and West Virginia Wesleyan, and will explore and apply the ways in which Buck’s life and writings can be used as “gateways” for cultural expression, international awareness, intercultural understanding and humanitarian aid.
At the conference, the Pearl S. Buck Memorial Award will be presented to a person who exemplifies Buck’s artistic and/or humanitarian legacies.
Additionally, to expand the scope of the collection’s impact, the WVU Press will work with the advisory committee and scholars to identify materials that may be suitable for publication in book form and in scholarly journals.
The birthplace was a significant part of Buck’s life and it will play an equally important role in in outreach and scholarship. Graduate students in WVU’s public history and cultural resource management programs could engage in internships at the birthplace and undergraduate students in WVU’s hospitality and tourism management program could gain field experience at the site. Students in both the tourism and strategic communications programs at WVU could also gain real-world experience through the design of promotional materials including websites and brochures, as well as social media, for the birthplace.
“We can learn so much from these manuscripts. They have come full circle,” said David H. Corcoran Sr., who was the Birthplace Foundation’s first executive director and is now publisher-editor of The Glenville Newspapers. He described how Buck envisioned a place where scholars could share and learn.
“Her dream has become true,” he said.
The goal of the second area – archival preservation and access services – is to grow the collection and share its content with the world.
The WVU Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center will assume the responsibility of providing physical care for and access to the Pearl S. Buck Collection.
A new finding aid to the collection will be developed in cooperation with West Virginia Wesleyan Library’s Special Collections department based on West Virginia Wesleyan’s existing inventory. Encoded archival description compliant cataloging records to the collection will be developed and incorporated into the WVRHC’s online guide to archives and manuscripts, which will immediately bring the collection to the attention of the world.
The WVRHC will also collaborate with West Virginia Wesleyan and the Birthplace Foundation to develop a website for the collection that will feature an illustrated biography and an online guide to Buck holdings at the WVRHC including both archival collections and books – which currently number well in excess of 200 volumes.
The website will include a digital collections component that will enable researchers, students and anyone interested to access and study selected components of the collection remotely. The Pearl S. Buck Collection website will link to and work in collaboration with the Birthplace Foundation website to share news regarding programs and events at WVU, West Virginia Wesleyan and the birthplace.
Finally, WVU will work independently and collaboratively with West Virginia Wesleyan and the Birthplace Foundation to seek out and acquire additional Buck materials to broaden the resources available in the collection.
About the collection
The archives contain the vast majority of manuscripts to Buck’s literary works in all forms. The collection – which is significant in size at 32 linear feet (60 to 80 archival boxes) – will take several weeks to assess according to John Cuthbert, director and curator of the WVRHC. The items will be available to the public by the end of December.
Much of the collection is handwritten or typed with handwritten edits, revealing the thought process of one of the boldest writers of a generation.
The collection contains elegant, leather-bound presentations of Buck’s manuscripts for the biographies of her parents – The Exile and The Fighting Angel – two novels that helped earn her the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature.
The manuscripts, gifted to Buck from her publisher, show the original title of The Exile was American Woman.
Also included in the collection are editorials Buck wrote for publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, the original paperwork for the preservation for her birthplace, and stamps that bear her likeness.
Controversial for her time, Buck was openly critical of societal structures that oppressed women and minorities, spoke out about civil rights in America and was defiant toward the Chinese government.
According to Buck scholar Peter Conn, within the past 15 to 20 years her reputation and writings have undergone a renaissance as academics and officials publicly acknowledged the importance of her contributions to the cultural history of China and to the cultural understanding between the East and the West. Several of her homes in China were even restored and opened to the public to much fanfare.
With the publication of several recent – and acclaimed – biographies of her life, Buck’s popularity seems to be on the rise again.
The collection joins the world’s leading repository of literary manuscripts by West Virginia authors at the WVRHC, which is already home to those of influential writer and illustrator David Strother, poet Maggie Anderson, novelist Denise Giardina and poet laureates Irene McKinney and Louise McNeill. The presence of the papers of these and other writers will complement the Pearl S. Buck Collection by enhancing the primary resources available to those who wish to conduct research in the field of West Virginia authors.
The WVRHC’s facilities and collections are among the finest in the nation and are utilized by scholars around the world, both onsite and via WVRHC’s website, which receives an average of more than a million hits each month.
Additionally, with this acquisition WVU joins an exclusive list of academic institutions that house papers of Nobel laureates in literature including Columbia University, Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, Stanford University, University of California Berkeley, University of Chicago, University of Mississippi, University of South Carolina, University of Texas at Austin, University of Virginia and Yale University.
In announcing Buck as the winner of the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Royal Swedish Academy pointed to her “notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for the studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture.”
From her writing achievements to her humanitarian efforts, Buck has historical and cultural significance on a global level. Now through the partnership of WVU, West Virginia Wesleyan and the Birthplace Foundation, her collected works will continue to provide inspiration for generations to come.
By Marissa Sura
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