Pearl S. Buck Collection

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About the Collection

Decades ago, on the southern end of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 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 sweeping panorama of the Appalachian Mountains, which left an indelible impression on her future work. The manuscripts that she went on to pen as an adult have now found their way to a new home in West Virginia, ready to inspire future generations of writers and scholars.

On October 30, 2014, West Virginia University, West Virginia Wesleyan College and the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, owners of Pearl's original manuscript collection, 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 containing the vast majority of Buck's literary output came to the WVU Libraries, where the West Virginia and Regional History Center has assumed the responsibility of providing physical care for and access to the Pearl S. Buck Collection.

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.)

The archives contain the vast majority of manuscripts to Buck's literary works in all forms. Much of the collection - 32 linear feet (almost 80 archival boxes) - 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.

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 of 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.

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 nineteenth-century writer and illustrator David Strother, contemporary poet Maggie Anderson and novelist Denise Giardina, and West Virginia poets laureate Irene McKinney and Louise McNeil. 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.