Pearl S. Buck Birthplace readies for increased profile from new agreement with WVU – WVWC

Hillsboro residents might expect to see more charter buses and school buses pulling up to the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and Museum, thanks to a recent partnership agreement with West Virginia Wesleyan College and West Virginia University.

Those familiar with the agreement said it will increase the profile of Buck’s contribution to literature as well as tourism dollars from visitors to Pocahontas County.

Kirk Judd, president of the Birthplace Foundation and Museum, has spent the last five years considering what to do with Buck’s manuscripts, which were given to the Birthplace shortly before her death in 1973.

This effort has been most intense this past year, with many meetings between three institutions, and final details of the agreement made public late last month.

Buck sold her manuscripts to the Birthplace for $1 in 1971. They were then moved to West Virginia Wesleyan College for safe-keeping. Now they will be on display for scholars at West Virginia University Libraries, which also holds the collections of other prominent state writers, such as Irene McKinney and Louise McNeill.

Judd, who is also a prominent West Virginia writer, said the agreement is important for preserving the legacy of Buck, who was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first American woman to win both the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize.

“Pearl Buck was a rock star back in the 20s and 30s when she was writing, and into the 40s. She was a champion of the under-privileged and of women’s rights. She was a champion of adoption for underprivileged kids. She was well-known and was in-demand as a speaker and as a presenter all over the world,” Judd said.

“So it’s a huge deal for the Birthplace, and it’s a huge deal for the international literary landscape to provide access to these amazing documents that she left in the collection that she provided to the Birthplace Foundation.”

“It’s her original drafts of things like The Exile and Fighting Angel, her biographies of her parents, which are extremely wonderful books. I think she published over 80 books and wrote well over 100, so all of her original manuscripts, hand-written things, type-written, onion-skin papers, first drafts sent to publishers, edited in her hand-writing documents. There are transcripts of her radio addresses. There’s just an amazing assortment of documents and articles in the whole collection,” Judd said.

“I’ll tell you it’s really cool to hold those in your hand, and you’re seeing her in her own hand-writing.”

“Scholars will have an amazing insight to her process by looking at the original drafts, and the second drafts, and all the way up to the published piece. They’ll be able to look inside and see how her process worked and no one has been able to do that because these documents were never accessible. They’ve been behind closed doors for over 40 years,” Judd said.

Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau, also serves on the board of the Birthplace Foundation and Museum. She is also pleased with the agreement.

“What that will do for us is help offer very specific programs to motor coach groups and school groups, which we can’t really forget how important that truly is to, not only Pocahontas County, but also the region and the state. So many young people are not really even aware of who Pearl S. Buck was now.” Rose said.

Among other benefits of the agreement, West Virginia University will sponsor trips to the Birthplace for visiting scholars. Interns from the college and university will help with marketing and cultural heritage projects. There will be a new Living Gateway conference dedicated to the mission of the Birthplace and Foundation. There also will be a partnership with the West Virginia University Extension Service in Pocahontas County, which will help with upkeep of the house, grounds, and gardens.

Story By

Kelly Taber

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