Monday, August 29, 2016

Multicultural Famous Writers: Maxine Hong Kingston (Chinese-American author)

Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston (born 1940) is one of the first Asian American writers in the United States to achieve great acclaim for both her nonfiction and fiction. With her vivid portrayals of the magic of her Chinese ancestry and the struggle of Chinese immigrants to the United States, she makes the Asian American experience come alive for her readers.

Maxine Hong was the eldest of six American-born children of Chinese immigrant parents. Hong’s father, a scholar, had left China in 1924 and immigrated to New York City; unable to find work as a poet or calligrapher, he took a job in a laundry. Hong’s mother had remained behind in China and joined him in the United States  in 1939.
Hong attended the University of California, Berkeley, as a scholarship student, graduating in 1962. At Berkeley she met aspiring actor Earll Kingston. They were married in November 1962 and had a son in 1964. The couple taught at Sunset High School in 1966–67 in Hayward, California , then moved to Hawaii, where she held a series of teaching jobs for the next 10 years.

Bridged the Gap Between Two Worlds

Growing up as she did feeling the pull of two very different cultures, Kingston has sought a reconciliation of sorts through her writing. Her goal has always been to incorporate the mystery of China in her work without fostering the stereotypical exotic image that appeals to so many white Americans. She believes that such an image "cheapens real mystery, " as she remarked to journalist Bill Moyers in an interview published in Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas II.
Her first book, a combination novel and memoir entitled The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), explores the lives of women who have had the strongest impact on Kingston throughout her life-women whose voices have never been heard. One of the most poignant stories deals with her aunt, who gave birth to an illegitimate child. Because having a child outside of wedlock was absolutely taboo and thus a threat to the community's stability, her whole village rose up against her, forcing her to kill not only herself but also her child. From then on, even mentioning her name was forbidden; for all intents and purposes, it was if she had never existed. By writing about her aunt, however, Kingston felt that she was able to rescue the unfortunate woman from oblivion and give her back her life. Time magazine namedThe Woman Warrior one of the top ten nonfiction works of literature of the 1970s.
Kingston was also interested in giving voice to the male side of her family. In 1980, she published China Men, another blend of fact and fantasy that won the 1981 American Book Award for nonfiction and was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. Based on the experiences of her father and several generations of other male relatives, the book explores the lives of Chinese men who left their homeland to settle in the United States. It contains stories of loneliness and discrimination as well as determination and strength, enhanced and embellished by Kingston's own formidable imagination. The project also inspired a unique dialogue between father and daughter. In the Chinese translation of the book, Kingston invited her father to note his own comments in the margins of each page, a tradition in ancient Chinese literature. She is especially proud of this edition, because it allowed her father to be recognized and honored once again for his writing.
Kingston's third book, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, earned the 1989 PEN West Award in fiction. In this book, Kingston examines the life of a young, fifth-generation Chinese American named Wittman Ah Sing (a tribute to poet Walt Whitman). Somewhat of a hippie who believes in doing what you please no matter what the consequences, Wittman majors in English in college during the 1960s and then sets out to find his place in the world. He ends up in Berkeley, California, where he struggles to make a go of it as a playwright.
Many readers and critics have found Wittman to be an especially annoying character. While Kingston admits that Wittman means to be offensive at times, she has been dismayed by the negative reaction to him. As she told Moyers, "What's sad is that when many people tell me that they don't like Wittman and his personality, what they're also telling me is that they don't like the personalities of a lot of actual Asian American men out there." Kingston wants Wittman to offend people; she believes that it is his way of making himself his own man. "He does know how to be charming, " she explained to Moyers. "Minority people in America all know how to be charming, because there are very charming stereotypes out there."
Kingston has also published numerous poems, short stories, and articles in her career. Hawaii One Summer, a book of 12 prose essays, was published in a limited edition in 1987. In 1991, she co-authored Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced Social Change in Vietnam, essentially a compilation of talks given by a Vietnamese Buddhist nun who has spent her life in service to the poor of her country. That same year, fire raged through Kingston's home in Oakland, California, and destroyed the manuscript of The Fourth Book of Peace, a project she had been working on that was inspired by the Chinese legend of the three lost books of peace. She has since completed The Fifth Book of Peace, which attempts to imagine in realistic rather than utopian terms what a world of peace might be like.

Classroom Techniques Combined East and West

After teaching at the University of Hawaii and Eastern Michigan University, Kingston joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley in 1990. Many of the same qualities of Eastern and Western culture and folklore that appear in her writing also surface in her classroom. For example, while discussing traditional Western literature, Kingston has been known to introduce concepts of Zen meditation.
Kingston is hopeful that the day will soon come when she is no longer considered "exotic." She would like to be viewed as someone who writes and teaches about Americans and what it means to be human. As she told Moyers, "I think I teach people how to find meaning." She encourages her readers as well as her students not to hesitate to reexamine the past and find new meaning in events that took place long ago.
For Kingston herself, meaning changes as she grows older. Looking back over her earlier works, she realizes there are additional details that she wishes she had incorporated into her stories. In the case of The Woman Warrior, for instance, she pointed out to Moyers that "the earlier meaning was we feminists have masculine powers, too. We can go into battle and lead armies." But the passing years have altered her perspective a bit. "This new meaning I'm finding from that myth is that war does not have to brutalize us, " she said. "In that sense I want to rewrite it, to bring in these new meanings that I've discovered in my life."

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