A grapevine clipping from the home of Pearl S. Buck, a world renowned author with West Virginia roots, just arrived in Michigan and soon will be planted at a high school literary garden.
It began as an idea last summer. Jennifer McQuillan teaches literature at West Bloomfield High School in Michigan, and she wanted to give her students something that would get them off their phones- and become better connected to the writing in decades old books.
“There are gardens that are devoted to Emily Dickinson or to Shakespeare, but there’s not been a garden in a secondary school setting that brings together important plants from American authors like this anywhere, to our knowledge,” said McQuillan.
Since last August, the garden has grown. Thirty-four plants have been sent from the homesteads of American authors, including Kurt Vonnegut, Ernest Hemingway and Alice Walker.
McQuillan says she wasn’t quite sure if the students would connect the garden with the literature she was teaching them.
“The turning point came around December, when we were reading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Buds and Bird Voices”. And he writes about a lilac bush out of his window. And we had that lilac bush growing in the literary garden. And that was the moment when the kids went, ‘oh my gosh, we have something really special here.’”
Fast forward to this summer. McQuillan’s garden will soon include a clipping from a 120-year-old grapevine that drapes across the front entrance to the birthplace of writer Pearl S. Buck
Kirk Judd, a board member for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation, says Buck wrote about the grapevine. “She remembers being 9 years old, sitting on the upper level porch, reading her Charles Dickens, and eating grapes from the grapevine.”
Judd says that even though she spent most of her childhood abroad, Pearl S. Buck always thought of West Virginia as home.
Born at her grandparents’ home in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the first American woman awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and her bestselling novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize.
She passed away in 1973. But the grapevine that she remembered so vividly from her West Virginia birthplace is very much still alive.
Jennifer McQuillan says it’s the first plant they’ve received from West Virginia. She teaches Pearl Buck’s writing in both her American and World Literature classes. McQuillan says she’s really happy to add Buck to the literary garden- both as an American and a world author who wrote extensively about China, her other home away from West Virginia.
“Because she’s sought both as a native author and as an author who is making her mark in another country as well. So I think that’s a really compelling story and I’m really excited to share that story with my students this fall.”
McQuillan will be working with her students to connect Buck’s writing to the grapevine they’ll be planting this summer, with the help of master gardeners in Michigan. She hopes both the grapevine, and a love for literature, will take root and grow.
Note, this story was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.