Distinguished and celebrated author Maxine Hong Kingston was officially recognized as the sixth recipient of Randolph College’s prestigious Pearl S. Buck Award during a ceremony in Smith Hall Theatre Wednesday evening.
The Pearl S. Buck award is given to women who exemplify the ideals, values, and commitments of Buck, a member of the Class of 1914 and the first American woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. Like Buck, Kingston has been a lifelong champion for peace and women’s rights. Her work is directly influenced by her mother’s childhood stories of China, as well as her own experiences as a first-generation Chinese American.
“I am very touched to be receiving an award that’s named Pearl Buck because so much of my work has been inspired by her,” Kingston said. “She was the pioneer who went ahead. Like her, I draw on the culture, language, ancestry, and traditions of China to create stories and art.”
Currently a lecturer emerita for creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley, Kingston is best known for writing The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, and its companion piece, China Men. The Woman Warrior won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976 for nonfiction, and China Men was awarded the 1980 American Book Award. In 2014, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. She has also received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the National Humanities Medal in 1997 from then-President Bill Clinton.
“Maxine’s work has helped open the eyes of Americans to the hardships and difficulties faced by Chinese immigrants and their American-born children,” said Bradley W. Bateman, president of Randolph College. “In the 1970s when she began writing The Woman Warrior, understanding and knowledge of Asian American culture was not widespread. Maxine introduced the world to the stories of these immigrants and their children, and through her writing helped shape a national conversation about culture, race, and gender.”
During her acceptance speech for the award, Kingston read passages from The Woman Warrior and The Fifth Book of Peace, a continuation of three books of peace that existed in ancient China but were lost in a fire. Kingston began writing a fourth book, which ironically was also lost in a fire in 1991. In the completed Fifth Book of Peace, Kingston describes the ways art can be used to promote and bring about peace. She closed by reading the especially powerful last passage from the book.
“Children, everybody—here’s what to do during war. In a time of destruction, create something: a poem; a parade; a friendship; a community; a place that is the commons; a school; a vow; a moral principle; one peaceful moment.”
Following Kingston’s speech, Eva Heitbrink ’17, Randolph Student Government president-elect, recited one of Pearl S. Buck’s most powerful messages of peace and the inherent good within people.
“I enjoy life because I’m endlessly interested in people and their growth,” she read. “My interest leads me to widen my knowledge of people, and this in turn compels me to believe in the common goodness of mankind. I believe that the normal human heart is born good. That is, it’s born sensitive and feeling, eager to be approved and to approve, hungry for simple happiness and the chance to live…
“Half a century ago, no one had thought of world food, world health, world education,” she continued. “Many are thinking today of these things. In the midst of possible world war, of wholesale destruction, I find my only question this: are there enough people now who believe? Is there time enough left for the wise to act? It is a contest between ignorance and death, or wisdom and life. My faith in humanity stands firm.”
In his closing remarks, Bateman shared another quote from Buck: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
“Women like Pearl S. Buck and Maxine Hong Kingston have used their literary talents to share stories of others—stories that have opened the eyes of the world to those of difficult cultures and backgrounds, and stories that have helped us understand our history in order to better our future,” he said.
The presentation of the Pearl S. Buck Award is part of a nearly yearlong celebration of the College’s 125th anniversary of its founding. More anniversary events can be found at http://web.randolphcollege.edu/125/.