Pearl Buck, novelist, writer, poet, activist, humanitarian, and founder of Welcome House

 

Pearl Buck circa 1972 courtesy of Dutch National Archives, The Hague under CC BY-SA 3.0 nl license

I give you the books I’ve made,
Body and soul, bled and flayed.
Yet the essence they contain
In one poem is made plain,
In one poem is made clear:
On this earth, through far or near,
Without love there’s only fear.

Essence by Pearl Buck


Yesterday was the anniversary of Pearl Buck’s birth. She was the founder of Welcome House for the adoption of mixed-race children, thought in her day to be unadoptable. I consider her my spiritual mother.

“. . . the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” Pearl Buck (1892-1973).

Pearl Buck was an American novelist, writer, poet, activist, and humanitarian and the first woman to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature (1938). She grew up in China and spent most of her life there until 1934. She had a deep affection for and knowledge of the countries of the East, not just China. She suffered through the Nanking Incident when the National Revolutionary Army captured Nanking (now Nanjing) in 1927. Many Westerners were killed, their homes destroyed, and their property stolen.  Her only biological child, Carol, had phenylketonuria (PKU), which causes mental retardation and seizures.

A lone child climbing the Mexico–United States barrier fence in Brownsville, Texas courtesy of Nofx221984 and generously released into Public Domain

Pearl Buck adopted seven mixed-race children. At a time when mixed-race children were considered unadoptable, she founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. Welcome House placed over 7,000 children.

It’s not hard to guess at just what white-hot outrage and disappointment this patron-saint of throw-away children would have knowing about the child detention centers on the U.S. Southern border, about presidential candidates using visits there as photo opportunities, and about the separation of refugee children from their parents. She would be profounly disappointed with the election of an oligarch who lives in ignorance and obscene self-indulgence while others sleep on the street and go hungry. One can guess at her anger and sadness over the children in South and Cenral America, Africa, and the Middle East running to escape violent environments, or the use of children to serve as soldiers in the Middle East and Africa, or about the numbers of children in third-world countries who die of hunger before the age of five for the wide-world’s greed and lack of care and will.


ABOUT

Recent in digital publications: 
* Four poemsI Am Not a Silent Poet
* Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire
Upcoming in digital publications:
* Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review
* From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)

A mostly bed-bound poet, writer, former columnist and the former associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press, The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove,I Am Not a Silent Poet, Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers. I founded The Bardo Group/Beguines, a vitual literary community and publisher of The BeZine of which I am the founding and managing editor.


“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton



 

Goddess Mothers and True Heroes

Originally published on The Bardo Group blog

“All you need is a sense that there is no such thing as ‘no’ and everything is possible.” Moira Kelly

This shining face, this sweet spirit with reason to be bitter and yet he is not. He is a hero and pure inspiration. When Naomi Baltuck (Writing Between the Lines/Life from a Writer’s POV) posted this video on Facebook, I was as touched as anyone would be. I had to wonder though about his mom. What kind of hero is she, I thought, remembering the heroes of my childhood: Josephine Baker and my spiritual mother, Pearl Buck. Each of these women grew their families in unique – and extraordinarily unselfish – ways.

“All my life, I have maintained that the people of the world can learn to live together in peace if they are not brought up in prejudice.”  Josephine Baker (1906-1975)

Josephine_Baker_1950Josephine Baker was born in America but became a French citizen. She was a dancer, singer, actress and civil-rights activist.  As a child living in St. Louis, Missouri, she suffered from discrimination, abandonment, and poverty.  As an adult she had one miscarriage. She adopted twelve children, two girls and ten boys. They were from diverse races and cultures because, in addition to caring for them, she wanted to show that people can get along despite their different backgrounds. In the early ’80s two of her sons went into business together. They started Chez Josephine, which is on Theatre Row (42nd Street) in Manhattan. They dedicated the restaurant to their adoptive mom’s memory and decorated it with her memorabilia.

“. . .  the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.” Pearl Buck (1892-1973)

220px-Pearl_Buck_(Nobel)Pearl Buck was an American novelist, writer, humanitarian and the first woman to be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature (1938).  She grew up in China and spent most of her life there until 1934. She had a deep affection for and knowledge of the countries of the East, not just China. She suffered through the Nanking Incident when the National Revolutionary Army captured Nanking (now Nanjing) in 1927.  Many Westerners were killed, their homes destroyed, and their property stolen.  Her only biological child, Carol, had phenylketonuria (PKU), which causes mental retardation and seizures.  Pearl Buck adopted seven children. At a time when mixed-race children were considered unadoptable, Pearl Buck founded Welcome House, Inc., the first international, interracial adoption agency. At the time of this writing, Welcome House has placed some five thousand children since it was established 1949.

“The greatest act of kindness changes generations. Wherever there is the greatest evil, the greatest good can be achieved.” Moira Kelly (b. 1964)

emmanuel-kellyThis brings us to a contemporary hero: the mother of Emanuel Kelly, the young man in the video. Moira Kelly is an Australian humanitarian whose work has garnered her many awards and acknowledgements.  When she was eight years old, after seeing a movie about then Blessed (now saint) Teresa of Calcutta (now Kolkata), Moira committed herself to working with disadvantaged children.  She is the legal guardian of twins from Bangladesh, Trisha and Krishna. They are surgically separated but originally cranially conjoined twins.  Moira Kelly also adopted the Iraqi-born Emmanuel and his brother Ahmet, both born with underdeveloped limbs. Among her efforts is Children First Foundation, formed to provide transportation and healthcare for children with urgent needs in developing countries.

These women are mothers in the best senses of that word. Their ideals are real and they stand by them. They have saved children from abandonment and loneliness, from poverty and hopelessness and from early death. They are goddess mothers and true heroes.

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved;  Photographs of Josephine Baker and Pearl Buck are in the U.S. Public Domain; I don’t know the origin or copyright of the photograph of Moira Kelly and her sons. If it is yours, let me know and I’ll credit you or take it down as you wish.


Zbaida
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO MY MOM

and to all mothers and the fathers, grandparents, siblings and others who

assume a mothering role for motherless children.


(c) – Mom & me

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MAXINE HONG KINGSTON, “Joy and beauty and delight!” … I Love a Broad Margin to My Life

Maxine Hong Kingston (b. 1940), Chinese-American atuhor, educator and activist

Maxine Hong Kingston (b. 1940), Chinese-American author, story-teller, poet, educator and activist

“Keep this day. Save this moment;
Save each scrap of moment; write it down.
Save this moment. And this one. And this.”  

Randolph College announced last month that Maxine Hong Kingston would be the sixth recipient of the college’s Pearl S. Buck Award. The ceremony will be held on April 20.

Pearl Buck and Ms. Kingston share the distinction of shining a light on Chinese culture. For Pearl Buck it was the Chinese people in their homeland and for Maxine Hong Kingston it is Chinese-Americans. Both are known for their activism and for their memoirs and fictions, Pearl Buck more for the later than the former I think.

What these women also have in common is poetry. Pearl Buck’s slender collection, Words of Love (John Day, Co., 1974), was published posthumously. Ms. Kingston’s I Love a Broad Margin to My Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) was the fruit of coming to terms with turning sixty-five.

As part of the two-week-long celebrations of my own birthday (61st) in 2011, the CitySon Philosopher took me to dinner one night at Cafe Barrone in Menlo Park, California. Afterward we went next door to Kepler’s Books – a favorite among family and friends, the local independent –  to hear Maxine Hong Kingston talk about what was then her new book. She is a “neighbor,” living only a few miles away in Stanford.

“Story gives form and pleasure to the chaos that’s life. By the end of the story, we have found understanding, meaning, revelation, resolution, reconciliations.” 

The book is a memoir in free verse, a long poem in effect like the old-country tradition of writing a poem on a scroll. Flowing.

“Am I pretty at 65?
What does old look like?”

Ms. Kingston immediately addressed the  issues of aging, both in her presentation and in the book itself. She talked about being superstitious and thinking that as long as she has things to write “I keep living…” She told of the origins of the title: Thoreau. It’s a line from Walden that, she says, also hangs framed over her desk.

She explained the Chinese custom of “writing poems back” and told of her dad who would write poems to her in the margins of her books. She was at that time translating these for publication, though that was never her dad’s intention. Or so I would infer. She encouraged us to write our own poems in the margins of her book.

Ms. Kingston stood in front of us, like a fragile little bird, reading excerpts from the book, delightful to hear in her voice. She is ten years older than me but we’ve lived through the same events and movements: civil rights, women’s rights, Vietnam, Iraq … and so on. She too is the child of immigrants. She sounds like a Buddhist, has the Buddhist sensibility: respect for life, for silence, for present moment.

When Ms. Kingston finished her presentation and Q & A, my son excused himself and kindly went to buy two copies for us. We stood in line with other guests, waiting for Ms. Kingston to sign our books. Every moment spent attending to writers of good conscience, talking about books and writing, is precious…even more this one, because I was with my son and the writer happened to be one with whom I share values, gender, and the context of time. She also is a mother with one child, a son.

Finally it was our turn: Ms. Kingston sat tiny and cheerful with pen in hand. She greeted us just as cordially as she had each reader throughout the long night. She wrote my name in bold sprawling black letters followed by “Joy and beauty and delight” and then signed her full name with “Hong” in hanzi (Chinese characters).

I wrote in my journal that night that “as long as we have cherished children, valued friends, conscientious authors and quality books, we have everything. Life is indeed joy and beauty and delight.”

As far as the book goes: The charm of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life is its gentle meandering. It made me think of the way books meandered before the modern preference for brevity and before computers and word processing and the ease technology brings to rewrites, cuts, and tight line-by-line editing … and perhaps needless to say, before life was so tightly packed with activity, rush and noise.

In her promising opening, Ms. Kingston is bemused in her self-awareness as she examines questions of aging, appearance, and vanity. As the book moves on, she blends nonfiction with fiction, a few references and viewpoints from characters that people her novels.

This long poetic memoir is a backward look at a time some might enjoy revisiting and others might want to learn about through the memory of one who was there. One of its strengths is the contemplation of life by a dedicated activist whose creative work helps the reader understand. I enjoyed the book, got value out of it; but I did feel rather like Ms. Kingston was putting on the unaccustomed robes of a poet and didn’t feel quite at home with this form.  Unlike other poetry books on my shelves, I suspect I’ll never pull it out for another read.

© 2016, essay and photograph of Ms. Kingston at Kepler’s Books on February 22, 2011, Jamie Dedes;  All rights reserved

Celebrating American She-Poets (4): Pearl Buck “Words of Love”

I give you the books I’ve made,
Body and soul, bled and flayed.
Yet the essence they contain
In one poem is made plain,
In one poem is made clear:
On this earth, through far or near,
Without love there’s only fear.

Essence by Pearl Buck, novelist and humanitarian

No one will think first of poetry when they think of Pearl Buck. She was primarily a novelist and memoirist. She did write poetry though and one collection was published. I consider her a sort of spiritual mother and so include her early in this ongoing Thursday series: Celebrating American She-Poets.

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was born in Virginia, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries. She grew up in China and spoke Chinese before she spoke English. Her Chinese name was Sai Zhenzhu.

Pearl Buck was a prolific writer of novels and memoir who started publishing her stories and essays in the 1920s in popular periodicals of the day: The Nation, The Chinese Recorder, Asia, and The Atlantic Monthly. Her first novel was East Wind, West Wind (John Day Company, 1930).

Of her novels, The Good Earth is the best known. It won the Pulitzer in 1932. The focus of most of her writing was China and the Chinese. When Chinese-American author Anchee Min wrote Pearl of Chinaa fictionalized account of Pearl Buck’s life, she said that she was touched by the warmth and understanding with which Ms. Buck had written about Chinese peasants and their lives.

Pearl Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.

To my knowledge, there is only one small book of her poems. The collection is titled Words of Love. It is simply illustrated with Asian art by Jeanyee Wong and was published a year after Ms. Buck’s death by the John Day Company, the publishing firm run by Pearl Buck’s second husband, Richard Walsh.

I found a copy of Words of Love in a used-book store some years ago. The poem quoted above is an excerpt. In brief, eloquent, deft strokes, Ms. Buck’s poems do indeed express the themes of her novels. I can’t help but wonder whether there might be more of her poetry stored in some university archive awaiting discovery by an ambitious student or devoted biographer.

Dust-jacket, Words of Love by Pearl S. Buck.

© 2016,  Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; illustrations are in the public domain