Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

Maxine Hong Kingston, born Maxine Ting Ting Hong, is the third of eight children. Her parents were born in China but came to the United States in the 1920s and ran a laundry house, despite the fact that her father was a scholar and teacher in China. Kingston is known for her intricate weaving of fact and fiction, and she has won several prestigious literary awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction as well as the 1981 National Book Award. Kingston also received the 1997 National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton. A notable political activist, she even won a publishing award for editing the book Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace in 2006. Her best-known works are The Woman Warrior and China Men, both nonfiction.

Facts and Trivia

  • Kingston’s novel Tripmaster Monkey is based on Sun Wu Kong, a mythical Chinese character.
  • Kingston was arrested in 2003 during a protest against the Iraq war when she stepped over a police line.
  • Kingston won eleven scholarships that allowed her to attend the University of California at Berkeley. She began her college years as an engineering major before switching to English literature.
  • Kingston’s early books have been criticized as not portraying Chinese culture accurately enough. She has countered that she is merely explaining her own experiences, not Chinese culture as a whole.
  • Kingston has also served as a writing professor across the country in locations such as Hawaii, California, and Michigan.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.

Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Born Maxine Ting Ting Hong, Kingston’s first language was Say Up, a Cantonese dialect spoken by her immigrant parents, who made their living in California by running a laundry. They struggled to retain their Chinese identity and values in a new world peopled by ominous aliens: immigration officials, teachers, non-Chinese. Kingston’s mother admonished and inspired her six children, particularly her daughters, with talks of the disasters that befell women who broke men’s rules and of legendary heroines who dared battle for justice.

Silent and wordless among “white ghosts,” Kingston was also threatened in childhood and adolescence by the specter of traditional Chinese prejudices against women. “Better to raise geese than girls,” was a family motto. Kingston nevertheless became an A student and entered the University of California at Berkeley, where she drank in all the idealism of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War movements of the 1960’s.

Kingston married classmate and actor, Earll Kingston, and for many years pursued a career as a teacher, first in California and then in Hawaii. Meanwhile, finding her voice and experimenting with the linguistic means by which she could express the rich imagery and rhythms of Chinese American speech in her writing, she began working on two autobiographical books simultaneously. Enthusiastic critical acclaim accompanied the publication of the best-selling The Woman Warrior and China Men. Often called novels, these autobiographies combine imaginative flights and her memories of Chinese myths with the facts of Chinese immigrant history. In these works, Kingston claims full citizenship for Chinese Americans. “We Chinese belong here. This is our country, this is our history, we are a part of America. If it weren’t for us, America would be a different place.” Kingston says that, in telling the story of the Chinese in America, a major influence was William Carlos Williams’ In the American Grain (1925).

Besides asserting the justice of the struggle against racism, Kingston also affirms the right of women of all races to full equality. Her writings make important contributions to feminist literature and women’s studies. She stands as the most widely read and influential interpreter of the Chinese American experience.

Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In her writings Maxine Hong Kingston speaks not only for herself and Chinese immigrants but for all marginal groups struggling to find their own voices in an oppressive foreign culture. Born of Chinese immigrant parents, she was a part of two worlds, the Chinese culture of her parents and the American one of her birth. Kingston attempts to reconcile the two heritages and out of them forge her own identity. Her father, Tom Hong, had in China been chosen by his family to be a scholar instead of a laborer. Frustrated with teaching school in his village, he had departed for the United States in 1924, leaving his wife and two infant children to follow at some unspecified time in the future. In New York he operated a laundry. After the death of her two young children, Kingston’s mother, Ying Lan Chew, still in China, acquired a medical education. She prospered, but in 1940 she gave up her respected position and left her homeland to join her husband in New York. When Tom Hong soon after lost his laundry, the family moved to California, where Kingston was born. The family endured a period of hard work and poverty during which time Kingston’s parents worked as servants and fruit pickers; eventually they established another laundry.{$S[A]Hong Kingston, Maxine;Kingston, Maxine Hong}

Kingston’s Chinese upbringing was ambivalent. Her mother encouraged her to remain Chinese and to accept the subordinate female role in the traditional Chinese family. At the same time, however, her mother related the legend of Fa Mu Lan, which depicts a woman warrior. Kingston also had to contend with American culture. Daily in school and outside the Chinese community, she was confronted with American customs and expected to speak English, a language not spoken at home. Her response was silence. When speech was required, she spoke in a squeaky, timid, or, as she writes, “pressed duck” voice. Yet she did well in school; unable to win battles as the legendary woman warrior did, Kingston achieved victories with her grades. In 1962, the year she married Earll Kingston, she received her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, where she returned in 1964 to earn a teaching certificate. She then taught mathematics and English in California. In 1967 she and her husband and their son moved to Hawaii, where she taught English, first in high schools and then in 1977 as a visiting associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. In 1980 Kingston was named “Living Treasure of Hawaii.”

Kingston’s first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction. In the book, which blends autobiography, history, and myth, Kingston describes her struggle to create her own identity out of the conflicting American and Chinese cultures. The work is without a plot in the conventional sense, and it presents portraits of Chinese women, real and mythic, as they react to their culture; the real women generally respond in silence or are silenced, but in the mythic figures they find a voice that speaks for them as well as for the others who are mute.

The first section, “No Name Woman,” relates the tale of Kingston’s aunt, her father’s sister, who disgraced the family by having an illegitimate child. On the night of the child’s birth, after the villagers destroyed the family compound, she committed suicide and infanticide by flinging herself and her baby into a well. Kingston...

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Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Maxine Hong Kingston, an American writer born of unassimilated immigrant parents, vividly captures with irony and wit conflicts that simultaneously draw on her Chinese and her American heritages. She envisions a lively amalgam that rejects the negatives from both ancestral and personal cultures and chooses the best from both. Kingston’s canon clearly shows this cultural mix as a vital part of the American way.

Kingston’s paternal grandfather had visited California three times from China and established the family’s claim to U.S. citizenship. Her father, Tom Hong, a scholar, poet, and village teacher in China before he emigrated to the United States, opened a laundry business in New York City with three other Chinese men. Its success enabled him to bring his wife, Yi Lan Hong (Brave Orchid), to join him. While waiting, she had completed medical school in Canton and established a practice there, but their two young children had died, so she willingly gave up her career and joined him in the United States, where she performed drudge work in the laundry. After her father’s partners cheated him out of his share of the laundry, Kingston’s parents moved to Stockton, California, where her father managed a gambling house in Chinatown that the police eventually shut down.

Kingston, born in 1940, was given the Chinese name Ting-Ting and the American name Maxine, after a frequent and lucky gambler from her father’s establishment. Kingston spoke the Say Yup Cantonese dialect at home and at first attended American and Chinese schools simultaneously, but Chinese interfered with her first-grade performance and she soon gave it up for English. As an adult, she admits that she now knows only a few words in Chinese. This linguistic dilemma, however, made Kingston aware of cultural conflicts early in her life. The cultural and generational confrontations depicted in “No Name Woman,” from The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), reflect the realities of growing up in one culture and being judged at home by the standards of another culture.

Kingston received an A.B. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962, the same year that she married Earll Kingston, an actor, soul mate, and charming raconteur. She earned a teaching certificate in 1965 and taught English and mathematics for the next two years in...

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Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Again and again in her works, Maxine Hong Kingston confirms that, for all the modern focus on ethnic writing, she sees herself as an American writer dealing with American issues: the nature of government, its relationship to its citizens, the interaction of citizens from very different cultures, the contributions that immigrants make to the American whole, the value of democratic principles, the importance of the individual but also the value of community, the destructiveness of war, the need as a nation for peace and for not only tolerating but also learning from difference. Her works are unconventional genre mixes because she agrees with Walt Whitman that, in a new land, people can re-create themselves, turn their lives into...

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Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Born on October 27,1940, in Stockton, California, Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. One of six children, Kingston...

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Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Novels for Students)
Maxine Hong Kingston Published by Gale Cengage

Maxine "Ting Ting" Hong Kingston grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Stockton, California. Born in 1940 to Tom Hong and Brave Orchid,...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

As a child, Maxine Hong Kingston worked in her parents’ laundry and went to an American school by day and a Chinese school by night. She is best known for The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), in which she combines legend, autobiography, and the biographies of female relatives to explore both the despair and the triumphs of women’s lives. Kingston speaks of creating a mythology that will live from one generation to the next, featuring archetypal personalities and heroines. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, she has taught literature at high schools in California and Hawaii.

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