MAXINE HONG KINGSTON Biography - Writers


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Maxine Hong Kingston was born on October 27, 1940 in Stockton, California. She         
was the first of six American-born children; her parents, Tom and Ying Lan Hong,       
had had two children in China before they came to America. Her mother trained as       
a midwife in To Keung School of Midwifery in Canton. Her father had been brought       
up a scholar and taught in his village of Sun Woi, near Canton. Tom left China         
for America in 1924, but finding no work for a poet or calligrapher, he took a         
job in a laundry. Tom was swindled out of his share of the laundry, but Ying Lan       
joined him in 1939 in New York City, and they then moved to Stockton where Tom         
had been offered a job in a gambling house. Maxine was named after a lucky blond       
gambler who frequented his work.                                                       
Kingston's first language was Say Yup, a dialect of Cantonese. She grew up             
surrounded by other immigrants from her father's village, and the storytelling         
she heard as a child influenced her later writing. By the age of nine, her             
progress in English enabled her to write poems in her new language, and though         
she was a gifted storyteller like her mother, she preferred the solitary task of       
writing. An extremely bright student, she won eleven scholarships that allowed         
her to attend the University of California at Berkeley. Kingston began as an           
engineering major, but she soon switched to English literature. She received her       
B.A. degree in 1962 and her teaching certificate in 1965. In 1962, she married         
Earll Kingston, an actor, and they moved to Hawaii where they both taught for         
the next ten years.                                                                   
permissions info In 1976, while Kingston was teaching creative writing at the         
Mid-Pacific Institute, a private school, she published her first book, The Woman       
Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. One reviewer, Michael T. Malloy,         
described the book as having an exotic setting but dealing with the same               
subjects as mainstream American feminist literature, specifically the "Me and         
Mom" genre. Other reviewers were surprised by its fresh subject matter and style,     
and they sang the praises of this poetic, fierce, delicate, original novel/memoir.     
Kingston strove for a Chinese rhythm to her voice, a typical Chinese-American         
speech, and rich imagery; her first book was a great success. In the end of           
Woman Warrior, her shy girl character finds resolution as she breaks female           
silence and inherits an oral tradition that she carries on as a written               
Kingston's second book, China Men, published in 1980, was a companion to Warrior       
Woman and received more controversial reviews. The book, steeped in historic           
detail and set in early California and Hawaii, details the male influences of         
her life and describes the lives of the men in her family who came to America--"Gold   
Mountain." China Men includes a chronological list of discriminatory laws             
regarding Chinese immigrants and celebrates the strengths and achievements of         
the first Chinese men in America as well as the exploitation and prejudice they       
faced. Several sinologists complained that Kingston reconstructed myths that are       
only remotely connected to original Chinese legends and that her pieces don't         
accurately portray high culture. Kingston responded to this criticism by               
explaining that she is not trying to represent Chinese culture, she is simply         
trying to portray her own experiences. She points to William Carlos Williams as       
one of the influences of China Men.                                                   
In 1987, Kingston published a collection of twelve prose selections, Hawaii One       
Summer. After the success of her first books, she was financially able to give         
up teaching as an occupation and continued to write, but she continued to teach       
on and off as a visiting professor in Hawaii, Michigan, and California. In 1988,       
Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book, a picaresque novel set in the San Francisco         
area during the 1960s, was published. The protagonist of this novel, Wittman Ah       
Sing, is a fifth-generation Chinese-American, and like many of Kingston's             
characters, he struggles to escape racism as he grows and questions the world         
around him. Reviews of this novel again were mixed, but critics seem to have had       
stronger reactions against this book than against China Men.                           
For Maxine Hong Kingston, writing has been central in her life. "My writing is         
an ongoing function, like breathing or eating," she explains. "I have this habit       
of writing things down. Anything. And then some of it falls into place as in           
these two books [China Men and Woman Warrior] (Yalom 13). She admires the             
changes a storyteller can implement when he or she tells the same tale many           
times, and in her work, she tries to retain this freedom to change a story's           
interpretation by guarding ambiguity in the static writing. Doubt is a part of         
every story, not certainty, and that is part of what makes her writing unique.