Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pearl Buck, Author of "The Good Earth" from VOA

FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus.

JIM TEDDER: And I’m Jim Tedder with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about the award-winning writer Pearl S. Buck.


FAITH LAPIDUS: The year was nineteen thirty-one. Americans were suffering through the Great Depression. The famous criminal Al Capone was sent to prison for not paying his taxes. “The Star Spangled Banner” officially became America’s national song. The Empire State Building in New York City was completed. And the top selling book in the United States was “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck.


JIM TEDDER: Pearl Buck won the Pulitzer Prize for the best novel by an American writer. She was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She wrote more than one hundred books. She also wrote short stories, poetry, plays, essays and children’s literature. But most people remember Pearl Buck for her novels about China. She knew the country and its people very well. For nearly forty years, China was her home.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Pearl’s parents were Caroline and Absalom Sydenstricker. They were religious workers in China. In eighteen ninety-two they were visiting in the United States when Pearl was born in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Three months after her birth, the family left the United States and moved back to China.

Pearl and her family lived among the Chinese people. Pearl played with Chinese children and visited their homes. She listened to their ideas and learned about their culture. From an early age, she spoke both Chinese and English.

JIM TEDDER: Pearl’s education began at home. Her mother taught her many of the things she would have learned in an American school. A Chinese tutor taught Pearl other subjects. They included the writings of the famous thinker Confucius and Chinese reading, writing and history. When she was seven, she began reading the works of British writer Charles Dickens. Many years later, after she had become a famous author, she said that Dickens’ writing style had the greatest influence on her own style.

FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen ten, Pearl went back to the United States to study philosophy at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. After graduation, she returned to China. Three years later, she met John Lossing Buck. He was a religious worker who studied agriculture. They were married and moved to a small village in the north of China. Their life among the poorest people provided the subject matter for many of the books she later wrote.


JIM TEDDER: In nineteen twenty, Pearl and John Buck’s first child was born. Her name was Carol. Doctors found that Carol had an unusual disease called PKU. This caused her to have trouble learning. Carol was sent to live at a special school in New Jersey. Pearl Buck was deeply saddened by having to send her only child to live far away from home. She also learned that she would never be able to give birth again.

But if it had not been for Carol’s health problems, her mother might never have become a famous writer. The reason was money. Pearl Buck needed a lot of it over the years to pay for her daughter’s care. So she tried writing books about the subject she knew best. Her first novel was called “East Wind, West Wind.”

It tells the story of a Chinese girl who learns about the western world. But it was Pearl Buck’s next book that made her famous and brought the money she needed.

PEARL BUCK: “Now when I began to write, not having anything else to write about, I only knew China. And my first very successful book was “The Good Earth.” I used to say to these young people, ‘Why don’t you write about your peasants? They are wonderful people.’ And they would say, ‘Oh nobody would be interested.’ And so I said well I’m gonna write that book then. If none of you will do it, I will write it. So I wrote ‘The Good Earth.’”

FAITH LAPIDUS: “The Good Earth” became the top selling book in the United States in nineteen thirty-one and nineteen thirty-two. Pearl Buck won the Pulitzer Prize. She also received the William Dean Howells Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In nineteen thirty-seven, “The Good Earth” became an Oscar-winning motion picture. The next year, Pearl S. Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

JIM TEDDER: “The Good Earth” is the story of a poor Chinese man named Wang Lung. His wife is O-Lan. They work together very hard and finally make enough money to buy some land for a farm.

After a time, they grow enough crops to feed their family well, with some left over to sell. Their lives improve greatly, and they are happy. But the good times do not last.

FAITH LAPIDUS: For a long time it does not rain. The land dries up and no crops will grow. Many people starve to death. Wang sells all he owns, except the land. Once again his family is poor and hungry. They beg on the streets to survive. Wang fears that they will die. But just when it seems that the end is near, good luck arrives.

JIM TEDDER: Poor people attack some rich people, hoping to get food and money. A crowd forces Wang into a rich man’s home. The rich man fears Wang and gives him gold coins. With this new-found wealth, Wang and his family survive. Every chance he gets, he buys more land. After a while he is richer than he ever thought he would be. For the rest of his life, Wang finds happiness in owning land and raising crops. He tells his sons that after he dies, they must never sell their land.

PEARL BUCK: “Now you couldn’t imagine anything less interesting to Americans, you would say, than a book like ‘The Good Earth.’ It came in the midst of depression times. And it was a comfort to the American people to know that there were people worse off than they were.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen thirty-two, Pearl Buck wrote a book called “Sons.” It tells about Wang Lung’s family after his death. Three years later, she wrote “A House Divided.” This book is mostly about Wang Lung’s grandson, Wang Yuan, who lives during a time of revolution in China. This book tells how China’s people began to change from their old ways to a more modern way of thinking.

Pearl Buck wrote her first books about China at a time when most people in the world knew almost nothing about the Chinese way of life. She told her stories with honesty. Her readers soon learned that the Chinese were far different from the way they had been shown in Hollywood movies.


JIM TEDDER: After almost forty years in China, the writer moved back to the United States. She bought Green Hills Farm in eastern Pennsylvania. She began to write articles for newspapers and magazines. She expressed her opinion on war, politics, religion, equal rights for all people and many other subjects.

PEARL BUCK: “One of the sad things about war is’s not so much that you lose the money because you can always make money, somehow. But you lose people that you can’t replace … the people who should lead our country are the best, who die early … the bravest, the most brilliant, the ones with the best leadership … and they are the ones who die, out of proportion to their numbers.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Pearl Buck’s ideas often brought her criticism. But she continued to speak and write about her support for the civil rights of black people in the United States. She also believed in birth control and equal rights for women. She said that there would be world peace only when all races had respect for each other.

PEARL BUCK: “We are one world and if we don’t know it, it’s dangerous. But I think we are beginning to know it more and more, and that does not mean that we give up our nationhood or our differences.”

JIM TEDDER: Pearl Buck gave many speeches in America. She talked to young people about the importance of a good education. She told them they needed to know more about other people around the world.

PEARL BUCK: “I beg of you to pay special attention to your history. Not just the history of the United States, but the history of the countries with which we are involved.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: In nineteen forty-nine, Pearl Buck helped start the Welcome House Adoption Agency. She had become very concerned about the children of mixed races around the world. She urged families to adopt these children without concern for the color of their skin or their cultural background. Pearl and her second husband, Richard Walsh, raised seven adopted children. Two of these were of mixed race. They also cared for many other children while they lived at Green Hills Farm.


JIM TEDDER: Pearl Buck died in nineteen seventy-three. She was eighty years old. She was buried near her house in Pennsylvania. Her memory lives on in the work done by Pearl S. Buck International. This organization provides adoption services and help to adopted people and their families. It also supports cultures around the world and works to end prejudice.

FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written by Jim Tedder and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Faith Lapidus.

JIM TEDDER: And I’m Jim Tedder. You can learn about other famous Americans at You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Business of Winemaking, Part One" from Voice of America

FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus.

DOUG JOHNSON: And I’m Doug Johnson with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Since ancient times, people have grown grapes to produce wine. Join us as we tell about the history of wine and how it is made. We will also visit a vineyard in the United States and meet a winemaker.


FAITH LAPIDUS: It is hard to say how long people have been drinking wine. Wine is far older than recorded history. Some experts say it is as old as civilization itself.

The first wine ever made was probably an accident. People in ancient times might have picked ripe grapes. Some juicy grapes at the bottom of the container were crushed together. As the grapes broke open, yeasts on the skins went to work turning sugar from the fruit into alcohol. This is the fermentation process that turns grape juice into wine.

DOUG JOHNSON: Winemaking probably began in the ancient Near East and Egypt. Burial places in ancient Egypt provide information about wine and its importance in Egyptian culture. Egyptian rulers were buried with wine offerings to help them in the afterlife. Archeological evidence also suggests that some of the earliest known wine producers were in Georgia and Iran thousands of years ago.

FAITH LAPIDUS: North Africa, Spain, France and Italy had their first vineyards during the Greek and Phoenician empires. The ancient Romans greatly expanded the winemaking industry. By the end of the Roman Empire, almost all of the major wine producing areas still in production today had been established in western Europe.

During the period of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church owned many of the great vineyards of Europe. Wine also played an important part in the church’s religious ceremonies.

Wine was not just about having an enjoyable drink. It could be stored for future use. And, it was nutritious and often much safer to drink than water during early times, especially in cities.

Some experts say that up until the the sixteen hundreds in Europe, wine was one of the only prepared drinks. After that, wine had competition from beer, coffee and tea.

DOUG JOHNSON: One thing was very important for the start of the modern wine industry. Wine needed a better storage method. In the mid sixteen hundreds people began making glass wine bottles that were stronger and low cost. Before that, wine was transported in containers made out of wood, clay or leather.

Glass bottles and the tight seal of a cork permitted wine to last longer in storage. It became clear that wine aged well and tasted even better over time. These developments led to a whole new kind of wine culture.

Today, the top wine producing countries in the world are Italy, France and Spain, followed by the United States.

Although Europe is still important in the wine industry, many other countries around the world are making top wines. These include Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Australia. Wine production is even increasing in countries like India and China.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Before we discuss how wine is made, we tell about several kinds of grapes. Some grapes are grown internationally. Chardonnay is probably the best known white grape. sauvignon blanc and riesling are other well known white grapes. Grapes for making red wine include pinot noir, syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

Other kinds of grapes are special in certain areas. For example, albarino and tempranillo are grown in Spain while Italian grapes include vermentino and nebbiolo. Other more local examples include Austria’s gruner veltliner grape and Hungary’s kadarka.

DOUG JOHNSON: Grapes contain water, sugar, acidity and tannin. These four elements are influenced by the kind of grape and the soil and climate of the vineyard. Wine growers can also affect the taste of their wine using other methods.

The French have a special name for the importance of the place where a grape is grown and its effect on the taste of a wine. “Terroir” is the word used to describe how a vineyard’s soil and climate give a wine special qualities. For example, a chardonnay wine grown in France will taste very different from one grown in California.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Now that we know about grapes and geography, we have some important tools for understanding the label on a bottle of wine. Some vineyards define their wine by the kind of grapes used in making the wine. Others define their wine based on where it is produced, such as wine made in France.

A bottle of wine may cost several dollars or hundreds of dollars. The cost of a wine usually has to do with how it was produced. Some wines are mass produced by companies with well known brand names. Other wines are made in very small quantities and require a great deal of time and effort to produce.


DOUG JOHNSON: How grapes become wine begins with the harvest. A winemaker must make an important decision about the best time to pick the grapes. Next, the grapes must be prepared for fermentation. The grapes are closely examined and sorted. Diseased or overly ripe grapes are thrown away.

Some winemakers choose to keep the stems of the grapes, while others remove them. The grapes are then crushed by machines. In the past, people crushed the grapes with their feet inside large containers. Some winemakers today still use this method. The grapes and their liquid are then stored in large containers where fermentation takes place.

FAITH LAPIDUS: The juice of white grapes is separated from the skins before fermentation. The skins of red grapes stay with the juice during fermentation. The skins give the wine its red color and much of its taste.

During fermentation, sweet grape juice slowly turns into a dryer and more complex tasting wine. During this stage, yeasts are changing sugar into alcohol, heat and carbon dioxide. Next, the wine is pressed so that solids are removed from the liquid.

Wine is often then stored in wooden containers called barrels. Aging the wine in barrels permits the flavors to come together. The oak wood can also give the wine a special taste. After the wine has aged for an extended period of time it is put into bottles. The wine is now ready to drink.


DOUG JOHNSON: Our description of winemaking is very general, but it gives you an idea of the process. In the United States, California is the most famous and top producing state for wine. But most people do not know that there are wineries in all fifty American states, including Alaska and Hawaii.

In nineteen forty-five, there was just one vineyard in the state of Maryland. Today, there are about forty vineyards in the state and that number is growing.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Earlier this month, we visited Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland to learn more about wine production. Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron are a husband and wife team who own this fifty-nine hectare farm.

During our visit, many of the grapes were being harvested. Ms. O’Herron took us to check on the remaining grapes.

SARAH O’HERRON: “So this is Cabernet Sauvignon, that’s still on the vines. So they’re coming along.”

REPORTER: “So when will these be ready?”

SARAH O’HERRON: “ Two weeks maybe? They’re getting close, though.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Ms. O’Herron tastes a grape and looks at its seeds.

SARAH O’HERRON: “And then these skins are still a little bit crunchy still. A little tannic, but not so much. It’s getting, these guys are getting close, which is good.”

DOUG JOHNSON: Ms. O’Herron shows us containers of newly picked pinot noir grapes. These grapes are now going through the wine process we talked about earlier.

Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron once worked as business professionals. But they spent a great deal of time travelling around the world and researching wine and the wine industry.

They decided to change careers and make wine their life’s work. They bought the farm that would become Black Ankle Vineyards in two thousand two. Their first full harvest was in two thousand six.

We asked Ms. O’Herron about the difficulties of being a winemaker.

SARAH O’HERRON: “First and foremost, it’s farming. We grow everything here right on this farm, so you are very much beholden to the weather, just like any other kind of farming. This year has been mostly a hot dry year, that’s generally good for us. But we can have a big rain storm, we just had a bunch of rain, and that will make an impact.”

FAITH LAPIDUS: Ms. O’Herron says their vineyard is getting increasing attention for the quality of their wine. She says this is partly because people do not expect such great wine to be produced in a state that is relatively unknown for its wine traditions.

Black Ankle Vineyards is a good example of how local winemakers are adding to the culture of wine production in the United States.

DOUG JOHNSON: Next week, we will continue our discussion about wine and talk to a wine professor and writer. This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I’m Doug Johnson.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus. You can comment on this program on our website, Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.