Born the daughter of Chinese immigrants Tom and Ying Lang Hong in Stockton, California, Maxine Hong Kingston grew up torn between her parents’ traditional East Asian culture and the culture of America. While her parents worked to support their family by operating a laundry, Kingston suffered, according to the autobiographical information in her books, much conflict over simultaneous identity as an American and a Chinese person. She addressed her struggles through writing, an activity begun at age nine. She benefited from immersion in Chinese traditional tales as she projected herself into roles of strong female figures from Chinese mythology.
Kingston earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley, then married Earl Kingston in 1962. Following the birth of their son, Joseph, Kingston taught high school English and later taught at the Honolulu Business College. While teaching at the Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu from 1970 to 1977, she wrote for publications and engaged in a long but ultimately successful search for a literary agent to represent The Woman Warrior. It appeared in print in 1976, won several awards, and was eventually published by Alfred A. Knopf. Kingston relocated to the mainland, where she became the McAndless Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at Eastern Michigan University, and in 1990 she became the Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1987 a limited edition (150 copies) of an eleven-essay collection, Hawai’i One Summer, appeared through a San Francisco press. She joined the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.
Kingston then spent approximately eighteen months helping the Berkeley Repertory Theatre prepare a stage presentation based on The Woman Warrior and China Men. Coproduced by the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, the presentation, by playwright Deborah Rogin, opened to mixed reviews.