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Mixing wry anecdotes with fascinating insight, English Professor Peter Conn delivered an entertaining and informative talk in the Annenberg School last night on his new book. In his address to members of the Penn Mid-Atlantic Seminar for the Study of Women and Society, Conn, who authored the award-winning Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography, called for restoring Buck's fiction and politics to a central position in 20th century societal history. History Professor Drew Faust, who organized the event, dubbed the second seminar this semester "particularly exciting because of the insightful and articulate participants." Opening his talk, Conn posed the perplexing query, "How does somebody who occupied as much space as Pearl Buck occupied, more or less disappear?" What followed was essentially a thorough biographical answer to that question. Buck grew up in China as the child of evangelical Christian missionaries, Conn noted. And while her ever popular Good Earth is still read religiously by high schoolers, the remainder of the incredibly vast canon -- consisting of more than 70 novels -- has long been ignored. Conn added that Buck has contributed astoundingly to the betterment of American society. She was a lifetime member of the NAACP and was so active in civil rights causes that the FBI was prompted to compile a docket of more than 300 pages on her. She also advocated gender equality and founded the nation's first international, interracial adoption agency, Welcome House, Conn added. Despite all these achievements, Conn said the importance of Buck's legacy lay in the fact that "she invented China for two generations of Americans." Nevertheless, Buck faded from both critical and historical favor. Conn identified the disastrous combination of overly mediocre books and unpopular views as the cause of Buck's decline in stature. "Eventually you become known as 'the woman who writes bad books,'" he said. Following Conn's remarks, English Professor Nancy Bentley and Princeton University History Professor Sue Naquin shared their criticisms. Naquin, an expert in Chinese studies, discussed Buck as a hybrid of Asian and American cultures. Bentley, meanwhile, focused on her own personal status as a member of the "post-Buck" generation. The seminar -- which was established a decade ago by the University's Women's Studies Program -- concluded with a question-and-answer session, in which the 20 audience members raised a number of issues. The Penn Mid-Atlantic Seminar for the Study of Women and Society will meet again in December to discuss "Women's Health in African Society."

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