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‘Imperial Woman:’ D&E hosts event to honor Pearl S. Buck


The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va.  — Tours, readings, children’s activities and a special dinner were part of Saturday’s events that honored one of West Virginia’s most honored and influential authors.

Chef Melanie Campbell, right, and Yuanjie Du prepare for a four-course dinner Saturday at Graceland Inn as part of ‘Imperial Woman: Celebrating Pearl S. Buck’ at Davis & Elkins College.
(Photo by Beth Henry-Vance)

Davis & Elkins College hosted the first “Imperial Woman: Celebrating Pearl S. Buck” celebration on its campus, featuring activities for all ages.

Free events included kite making for children at D&E’s historic Graceland Inn, an ice cream social and tours of Graceland as well as the college’s Pearl S. Buck Room and library collections.

The day’s events were highlighted by a formal, four-course dinner with recipes from Buck’s Oriental cookbook, followed by a living history performance by storyteller and actress Karen Vuranch.

An author and humanitarian, Buck was born in 1892 in Hillsboro as Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker.

Her parents were Presbyterian missionaries in China, and she spent 40 years of her life there.

Buck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel “The Good Earth” and the Nobel Prize in literature for her portrayal of Chinese peasant life and for the biographies of her parents.

She also was a longtime advocate of world peace, cross-cultural understanding and human rights.

Chef Melanie Campbell said she hopes to make the special day honoring Buck into an annual event, and she got the idea after attending a similar gathering at West Virginia University last year.

“We have a large collection of Pearl Buck’s books, and it just kind of fits in,”Campbell said Saturday afternoon. “It is a nice thing that she’s from West Virginia, and she shared so much culture.”

Part of the Special Collections and Archives of Davis & Elkins College, the Pearl S. Buck Collection includes original manuscripts and a complete anthology of Buck’s titles in more than 35 languages, according to information from the college.

One of the attendees Saturday was Lyla Howell, of Elkins, who used to live in Pocahontas County and met Buck in the early 1970s.

Howell worked as a counselor at Pocahontas County High School at the time, and Buck made a presentation to the school at attended a luncheon in her honor.

She said she hopes to see more recognition of Buck’s work.

“People should be more aware of what she did,” Howell said. “I’m glad D&E is making it more public.”

Another person attending Saturday’s events shared similar comments. Kirk Judd, who serves as treasurer of the executive board of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, traveled from Morgantown with his wife, Janet, for the celebration. He said he was pleased to see the college honoring Buck.

“This is great,” Kirk Judd said. “She’s an important global, literary and cultural figure.”

He added it’s disappointing that Buck’s books and the story of her life are no longer taught in West Virginia history, or any curriculum, but he hopes to see that change soon.

“I think getting her back into the education system is key,” he said, noting it would be wonderful for students to learn about a West Virginia author who accomplished so much.

Kirk Judd said he hopes the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation will be able to partner with D&E College to continue the “Imperial Woman” celebration.

“Things like this help, and we hope Davis & Elkins continues to do this,” he said.

One of Saturday’s activities was led by Coalton Elementary School teachers Many Mininger and Kelly Judy, who helped children decorate and create kits to fly on the lawn at Graceland Inn.

Some of the children taking part were 12-year-old Krysten Jones and her friends, 10-year-old Kenna and 3-year-old Aubree Bodkin, all of Coalton.

Another participant was 3-year-old Hadley McElroy, of Morgantown, who attended with her father, Ian McElroy.

Originally from Elkins, Ian McElroy said he heard about the celebration from his mother, Debra Everhart, who has always been a fan and avid reader of Buck’s works.

“It’s interesting having a local author who was famous,” he said.

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