West Virginia Writers Inc. award to honor Pearl S. Buck

For the second year, West Virginia Writers Inc. has joined forces with the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation to honor West Virginia’s best-known literary daughter with a special category in its annual writing contest. The Pearl S. Buck Award for Writing for Social Change was added to the organization’s contest in order to honor Buck’s legacy as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction that changed viewpoints on a national and global scale.

Buck, who was born in Hillsboro, grew up in China as the child of missionaries, and spent half of her life there earning a first-hand perspective on life in the East. Her literary work reflected this in books like “The Good Earth,” “Sons,” and “A House Divided,” among dozens of other works.

Jolie Lewis, vice president of the board of directors for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, said Buck’s work radically changed how people in this country viewed China. Readers of her work were exposed to the realities of life in a nation that had seen ugly stereotypes accepted as fact for decades beforehand. And this effort on her part did not go unrecognized. In addition to winning a Pulitzer Prize and the Dean Howells Medal for her work, in 1938, Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces.”

“It was a little bit controversial, I think, among the literary elite at the time,” Lewis says, referencing points made in Peter Conn’s renowned biography, “Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography.” With writers such as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald as her peers, it might be surprising for Buck, whose writing style contained a very plain-spoken lyricism designed to emulate the cadences of the language of the people she wrote about, to win such honors. However, Lewis further notes that at the time the prize was granted, fascism was on the rise in Europe and Hitler had come into power in Germany. In the face of this, the Swedish Academy, one of the governing bodies of the selection process for the prize, wanted to recognize work that promoted understanding and tolerance.

“There’s such a history in our world of honoring work that is trying to impact the way people see each other,” Lewis says. “That’s part of what our award is rooted in.”

As such, the Pearl S. Buck Award for Writing for Social Change category accepts prose and poetry designed to inspire or highlight the need for social change. The issues addressed need not be global in scope, but should address matters in which the writer believes change is required. The stories or poetry submitted to the contest must be previously unpublished works of under 5,000 words in length. Judging the category this year is a more modern West Virginia literary figure, Lee Maynard, author of the Crum trilogy, including Crum, Screaming with the Cannibals and this past summer’s The Scummers.

Last year’s winners included third-place winner Maria T. McKelvey of Randolph County, second-place winner Karin Fuller of Kanawha County and first-place winner Daleen Berry of Monongalia County.

In honor of the category, WV Writers offers on its website a free audio podcast interview show with Jolie Lewis, as well as Pearl S. Buck biographer Dr. Edwina Pendarvis, regarding both the category itself and Pearl S. Buck’s place in literature. That podcast, as well as a primer show for the overall writing contest, can be downloaded for listening from podcast.wvwriters.org, or through iTunes.

West Virginia Writers annual writing contest also offers 12 other writing categories to choose from in its adult contest. Among the other categories are Short Story, Short Nonfiction, Short Poetry, Long Poetry, Appalachian Writing, Book Length Prose, Screenplay, Inspirational Writing, Young Adult/Middle Grade, Children’s Picture books, Emerging Writers Prose, and Emerging Writers Poetry. Submissions are accepted through March 15 (with a late deadline of March 31). The contest is open to all residents of West Virginia as well as to any member of WV Writers, Inc. residing outside of the state. There is a $10 fee for each adult contest entry, and a $12 fee for the book-length category.

In addition to the adult contest, WV Writers is also accepting entries for the 2013 New Mountain Voices Student Writing Contest, open to young writers in three different age groups; grades 15, grades 68, and grades 912. There are no fees to enter the New Mountain Voices Contest, though only students who are residents of West Virginia are eligible to enter.

Winners of both annual contests will be announced June 8 in an awards ceremony during West Virginia Writers Annual Writers Conference, held at Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley. All winners, including honorable mentions, will receive certificates suitable for framing.

For all other information and an official contest entry form and contest rules, visit the contest page of WV Writers website at wvwriters.org/contest.html, or email contest coordinator, Eric Fritzius, at wvwcontest@gmail.com.

West Virginia Writers, the largest writers’ organization in the state, will celebrate its 36th anniversary this year.