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 taught high school math and English in the earlier years of her marriage. 
  • Kingston was arrested in 2003 during a protest against the Iraq War when she stepped over a police line. She shared a jail cell with authors Alice Walker and Terry Tempest Williams, who were also part of the demonstration. 
  • 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.
  • She has cited Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and William Carlos Williams as inspirations and influences.

Biography

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Last Updated on January 20, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 357

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.

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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.

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