Pearl Buck was born on June 26, 1892, in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Her parents were Christian missionaries, and Buck was raised in China, attending a boarding school in Shanghai. In 1910, she went to America to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
After graduation, she soon returned to China, marrying an American agricultural specialist in 1917, and living in North China. In the 1920s, Buck taught English literature at the University of Nanking. In 1925, she returned to America and received a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University in 1926. Back in China, Buck and her husband found their lives in danger when a revolutionary army attacked Nanking. They spent a day in hiding before being rescued by American gunboats.
During the 1920s, Buck found her vocation as a writer, publishing many stories and essays in magazines. Her first novel, East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930. It was followed by The Good Earth (1931), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and the William Dean Howells Medal in 1935. The Good Earth was a huge bestseller, giving thousands of American readers insight into life in a country about which they knew little. The novel was made into a Broadway play and a film. The Good Earth was followed by Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935), both of which followed the fortunes of the family of Wang through subsequent generations.
Buck returned permanently to the United States in 1934, where she lived in Pennsylvania with her second husband, Richard Walsh. The couple adopted six children.
In 1938, Buck won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first American woman to receive the coveted award. The award was not only for The Good Earth, but also for Buck's two masterful biographies, The Exile (of her mother), and Fighting Angel (her father). Both these books were published in 1936.
Apart from her work as a writer, Buck was also active in social causes, such as civil rights and women's rights. In 1941, she and her husband founded the East and West Association, the aim of which was to foster greater understanding between Asian and Western cultures.
Buck remained a prolific writer for the remainder of her life. She published in all over seventy books. These included novels, short story collections, biographies and an autobiography, poetry, drama, children's literature, and translations from the Chinese.
Buck died on March 6, 1973, at the age of eighty.
Today, several of the organizations founded by Buck have been merged into Pearl S. Buck International (PSBI), which continues her legacy. Its focus is to improve the lives of socially, politically and economically ostracized children. Through efforts to strengthen communities and families as well as the development of local programming partnerships, PSBI now serves more than 100,000 children, their families and their caregivers annually.