Wise County auctioneer finds rare manuscript in storage unit

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, May 25, 2013

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You could call it a once-in-a-lifetime find – but even a lifetime of sifting through abandoned storage units rarely yields this kind of treasure.

“We found a manuscript,” auctioneer Judy Norred and her husband, Ron Taliaferro, admitted during an interview for a story on storage unit auctions.

“You ever heard of Pearl Buck, the author?” Ron asked.

Pearl Buck won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938 – the first American woman to do so.

Pearl Buck at her desk

Pearl Buck at her desk

Last December, Norred bought the contents of several units at an auction in Fort Worth. Her crew loaded it all up and brought it back to Runaway Bay, where she and Ron sat in the old marina building and sifted through the boxes, deciding what to sell, what to toss and what to keep.

It was there that Norred found the unpublished manuscript of Pearl Buck’s last novel.

Pearl Buck

Pearl Buck

“The man she lived with the last 10 years of her life, who was her personal secretary and publisher, had family in Texas and traveled through Texas,” Judy said. “I sat down and read the whole thing, and it was amazing.”

Just this week the publisher, Open Road Integrated Media, announced that the book, “The Eternal Wonder” will be released Oct. 22.

It’s just a coincidence that the auctioneer who discovered the manuscript happens to be a former teacher with a master’s degree in English literature – and a big fan of Buck’s writing.

She contacted the family. At first, they asserted ownership.

“The will gave the family the rights to all published materials,” she said. “But this had not been published, therefore we were able to sell it to the family instead of them taking it away from us.”

Norred won’t disclose the exact amount, but said they got “a pretty penny” for it.

A New York Times story announced the find Tuesday.

The story says the manuscript “was stumbled upon in a storage unit in Texas” and returned to the Buck family in December “in exchange for a small fee.”

Buck is believed to have completed the novel shortly before her death from cancer in 1973. How it found its way to Texas and how long it had been in the storage unit remain a mystery – although Norred said she also found letters and other items that shed some light on Buck’s final years and her relationship with her family.

Television host Oprah Winfrey gave Buck’s work a shot in the arm by choosing “The Good Earth” as one of her book club selections in 2004.

The new novel, “The Eternal Wonder,” contains “all of the themes that were important to Pearl Buck,” said Jane Friedman, founder of Open Road. “The main character, the love, the attention to detail of the Chinese artifacts, the relationship this young man has. She writes in a way that is absolutely hypnotic.”

Two copies of the book – a typed version and a photocopied manuscript in Buck’s handwriting – were among the items Norred discovered. She still has the other items, including an autographed copy of one of Buck’s other books.

“Certain things, we don’t get rid of,” she said.

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