HISTORY | Women and Words

photo-9On this day 82 years ago, then 40-year-old Pearl S. Buck was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Good Earth. The book spent the previous year as an American best seller, captivating audiences around the world for its vivid and epic tale of Chinese peasant life. Buck was a novelist, journalist, biographer, translator, activist, feminist, mother and more, an outspoken voice sharpened on the global tensions and civil rights waves of the early and mid-twentieth century.

Daughter of American missionaries, most of Buck’s life up to 1934 was spent in China. She was a prolific and passionate writer, generating dozens of works of both fiction and nonfiction. Her writing delved into the tenuous and sometimes explosive clash of East and West, featuring with rich storytelling the culture and history of the Chinese tradition she so loved. It was that legacy of fiction, as well as her captivating biographies, that earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. She was an active supporter of equal rights for women and minority groups in America and abroad, and wrote for many of the major journals and periodicals of her day.

Far from short on literary talent, Buck also spent five years completing the first translation of an early Chinese text — Shui Hu Chuan — All Men Are Brothers.

 

“Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of the earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from the earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver. Each time before this that he had taken the silver out to give to anyone, it had been like taking a piece of his life and giving it to someone carelessly. But not for the first time, such giving was not pain. He saw, not the silver in the alien hand of a merchant in the town; he saw the silver transmuted into something worth even more than life itself – clothes upon the body of his son.”

— Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

BIRTHDAY | The Dictionary

Samuel-JohnsonMany modern writers, myself included, rely on an ability to navigate the complex medium that is the English language. We shape our very identities in the literary world through the manipulation of its bold and subtle meanings. April 15 marks an important publication date for that language, taking us back 259 years to London, England and lexicographer Samuel Johnson.  

As literacy and printing technology continued to increase in 18th century Britain, scholars and printers alike recognized a need for a comprehensive tome cataloguing the printed word. Johnson’s, A Dictionary of the English Language, was far from the first dictionary to be developed and distributed in England. But for nearly two centuries, it was regarded as the best. Printed on April 15, 1755, after nine years of scholarship on Johnson’s part, the two-volume dictionary was deemed the superior source for definition of English words until the publication of the Oxford English Dictionary 173 years later. 

Johnson’s work was known for quoting famous English authors as way of further illustrating his definitions. His dictionary features 114,000 pieces of quotation, including the following:

Opulence: Wealth; riches; affluence
“There in full opulence a banker dwelt,
Who all the joys and pangs of riches felt;
His sideboard glitter’d with imagin’d plate,
And his proud fancy held a vast estate.”
       — Johnathan Swift

He was also known to embody his definition with humor, or perhaps a bit of bias here and there — for instance, in the definition of his own profession. 

“Leicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.”

While criticisms of Johnson’s work are plenty, and it does not conform to modern traditions of lexicography, his enormous academic undertaking represents a significant landmark in literary history, and an achievement that continued to inform scholars for many generations after his death. 

 


Hannah Heimbuch is a community news journalist and commercial fisherman in Homer, Alaska. She is working on her Master’s of Fine Arts through the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, and is the assistant nonfiction editor at The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review.


 

 

Orange

squeeze_orangeI sat in the Seattle airport facing west, toward the sun making a last go at the day. Light poured unbroken through the glass face of the building, turning the people in front of me to silhouettes and halos. We draped over chairs in a lethargic kind of limbo, and the late sun brought out the details of our waiting. It shone through unexpected avenues and made mirrors of strange surfaces. The woman across from me was a lighthouse – lip gloss exploding, her hair fine blonde and on fire. The icing from a Cinnabon was a sticky glow on a boy’s face. Sugar. Licked over by light. In one corner a young woman and her iPod scrunched away from the glare, but the silver of her earrings shot twitching discs across the carpet. Light and shadow, on strangers in a room. The younger version of me paused. Took in a moment, at a time when I was so good at missing them.

 

I went back to reading. But a tall man with dark sunglasses and a CD player began to grab at my attention. Another stranger. He sat with the slouch and quietness I found so attractive in my early twenties. A grunge I wanted to snuggle up to, hide in. A loose stocking cap covered his head but wisps of golden brown hair escaped unchecked. Those few strands were the only color I saw on him. Mostly it was just the dark outline of his shoulders against the light, and sometimes, when he turned his head, the edges of still features under a five o’ clock shadow. He was pleasing, wholly dark, and somber. But again, I turned back to my book. Until the orange juice.

 

In an interstellar burst

I am back to save the universe.

 

I wasn’t even watching him anymore when he bent to reach into his bag, but the unexpected rupture of gold drew me back. The setting light made the liquid a sister, glowing stunningly through the bottle attached to a tan and now sunlit hand. The rest of him still in shadow, it was like that arm had been dealt some kind of cosmic power, holding light and color in a grip not quite human. The glow moved to his lips, and he tipped back the juice and drank like his life depended on it. Maybe it did. I imagined behind his sunglasses he was closing his eyes. Like he might after hanging up from a difficult phone call. After smelling morning’s first coffee. After loving. His arms were smooth against his white t-shirt, and I couldn’t help thinking how, for just that moment, I’d like to sit next to him. Not alone with the book I was now pretending to read, not alone with the doubt and fear I held hard in my gut, ready to fly back to a home and a life I no longer wanted to wake up to. But it seemed if I could just sit beside him for a bit. Quiet, and slouching, and waiting, next to him. With some orange juice and eyes on the sun. Surely, it would all be better.

 

airport_waiting_shutterstock_34490908

 

But I went back to the goddamn book. In earnest I read it. I knew not to get enamored with ideas of men and glowing moments, it only leads to glaring awareness of being alone. At least when reading I could stay in that nice middle ground of other peoples’ feelings. And it kept me from drinking. Sometimes. So I read while the sun set. I read through the annoying conversation happening behind me. I read until they told me it was time to stand and walk to the plane. Out on the tarmac, the sharpness of the evening had gone, leaving a last flush of color and long, misshapen shadows. I said good night to Seattle and boarded, ready to read my way home at last.

 

But as I shuffled to 17A, I saw there was a man already seated in 17B. A man with sunglasses, a CD player and an orange juice.

 

Before sitting I smiled to myself. Just for a moment, then it was all stowing bags and putting on the seatbelt, getting out the book. I wondered if I got to count this seating arrangement as a sign of some kind. A nudge to pay attention, to take notice. Maybe. Maybe not. I hesitated over where to place my elbow. On the arm rest, off the arm rest, on the arm rest…what if mine touched his? Do I say hi? Nod a bit? No, I decided, no. He tucked his orange juice in with the in-flight magazine and closed his eyes. Pretty sure he wasn’t wondering where to put his elbow, or if it affected his fate. Still, when I opened my ever-loving book I had to smile again, because I could hear the music through his headphones. One of my favorite Radiohead songs slithered out, yet another piece of his presence that pulled at me.

 

I am back to save the universe

 

And then I did something completely normal, more perfect than I knew I needed. I sat next to him. Reading. Calm. I liked sitting next to someone that I found strangely interesting and comforting. A man I would probably never speak to, but I knew I’d like to. A man who listened to nice music and tapped his fingers slowly. I thought about what it would be like to have a shoulder like his to touch my cheek to. I sat and read and imagined it was possible to look him in the eye, that we maybe thought about the same things sometimes. It was a comfort, a slow easing into hopefulness. Then the orange juice, again.

 

In a jackknifed juggernaut

I am born again

 

As we reached speeds for take-off, he grabbed his half-empty juice bottle from the seat pocket and took two life changing gulps. With his sunglasses off, I glimpsed that he did indeed close his eyes for lipsthis. But it was the sigh afterward that really struck me. He sunk into his seat, as I already had, and the plane lifted. His eyes stayed closed and he pulled the hat tighter down over his headphones. As the air vents poured coolness over us, he breathed out in one rush and I could smell oranges. As we rose higher I saw golden dusk and I smelled oranges. The mixture of sweet breath, subtle men’s cologne and the sight of him pressing into his seat made me close my eyes. I wanted to kiss him and lick the juice off his lips. I wanted to kiss him and taste the coolness it had left on his tongue. I wanted to breathe out oranges, sink into a seat, and sleep. Next to a man who liked Radiohead.

 

In an interstellar burst

 

I thought of that for a while. No more than that. The plane leveled in the sky, the murmur of passengers settled and soon a flight attendant rolled toward us offering drinks. I ordered wine to still my imagination. Close it up again. He sat forward, eyes open, and politely asked for an orange juice.

 

I am back to save the universe

 


Hannah Heimbuch is a freelance journalist and commercial fisherman from Homer, Alaska. She is currently working toward her MFA in creative nonfiction through Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop. She seek a life based upon the simple staples of words and fish.