Best known as the author of The Good Earth, Buck was an early pioneer for causes, especially racial tolerance, that later gained wide acceptance. Published in 1931, The Good Earth is a novel about a Chinese peasant family; it was a best seller and received the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Biographies of her mother (The Exile, 1936) and her father (Fighting Angel, 1936) were also best sellers. In 1938 she received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Buck was a prolific author whose work included novels, three autobiographies, children’s stories and short stories. Much of her work centers around the causes that interested her most and had a direct impact on her own life: China and children. She donated most of her earnings, over $7 million, to her foundation to aid biracial children fathered by American servicemen outside the United States. She was deeply concerned about the treatment of blacks in America, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the problems of handicapped, retarded and abandoned children. During Buck’s lifetime the adoption of children by parents of a different race was very rare. She did much to help change attitudes and, partly as a result of her work, interracial adoption (for instance, adoption of Asian children by Caucasian parents) is widespread today.
Born in West Virginia, Buck was raised in China by her missionary parents. She returned to the United States to attend Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia. In 1917 she married missionary John L. Buck. In 1921 she gave birth to a mentally retarded daughter, Carol; the pregnancy left her unable to bear more children but sparked her interest in adoption. She returned to China and taught English Literature in Chinese universities from 1925-1930. From 1935 onward, Buck lived in the United States. She divorced her first husband, who didn’t share her interest in literature and culture, and married her publisher, Richard Walsh. In addition to a girl Buck had adopted during her first marriage, Buck and Walsh adopted four children during their first two years of marriage and four older biracial children during the 1950s. Buck died of cancer at age 80; she is buried in her Pennsylvania farmhouse, which now serves as headquarters of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.