Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston in 2006
Born Maxine Ting Ting Hong[1]
(1940-10-27) October 27, 1940
Stockton, California
Occupation Writer
Nationality US
Notable works The Woman Warrior, The Fifth Book of Peace, Tripmaster Monkey, China Men
Notable awards National Book Critics Circle Award
National Book Award
National Humanities Medal
National Medal of Arts
Spouse Earll Kingston
Children Joseph Lawrence Chung Mei
Maxine Hong Kingston
Chinese 湯婷婷

Maxine Hong Kingston (Chinese: 湯婷婷; pinyin: Tāng Tíngtíng; born October 27, 1940) is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1962. Kingston has written three novels and several works of non-fiction about the experiences of Chinese-Americans.

She has contributed to the feminist movement with such works as her memoir The Woman Warrior, which discusses gender and ethnicity and how these concepts affect the lives of women. Kingston has received several awards for her contributions to Chinese American Literature including the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1981 for China Men.[2][lower-alpha 1]


Kingston was born in Stockton, California, to first-generation Chinese immigrants, Tom and Ying Lan Hong. He was a laundry worker and gambling house owner and she was a practitioner of medicine.[3] Kingston was the third of eight children and the eldest of the six children born in the United States. Her mother trained as a midwife at the To Keung School of Midwifery in Canton. Her father was brought up as a scholar and taught in his village of Sun Woi, near Canton. Tom left China for America in 1925. He was able to bring his wife over in 1940.

Kingston was drawn to writing at a young age and won a five-dollar prize from "Girl Scout Magazine" for an essay she wrote titled "I Am an American." She majored in engineering at Berkeley before switching to English. In 1962 Kingston married Earll Kingston, an actor, and began a high school teaching career. The two began a family the following year with the birth of their son Joseph Lawrence Chung Mei. In 1965–1967, Maxine taught English and mathematics at Sunset High School in Hayward, California.[1] After relocating to Hawaii in 1967 Maxine began writing extensively, finally completing and publishing her first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, in 1976. She began teaching English at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa that same year. By 1981 she had moved on to teach at Berkeley.[4]

Her works often reflect on her cultural heritage and blend fiction with non-fiction. Among her works are The Woman Warrior (1976), awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, and China Men (1980), awarded the National Book Award.[2] She has written one novel, Tripmaster Monkey, a story depicting a character based on the mythical Chinese character Sun Wu Kong. Her most recent books are To Be The Poet and The Fifth Book of Peace.

A documentary produced by Gayle K. Yamada, Maxine Hong Kingston: Talking Story, was released in 1990. Featuring notable Asian American authors such as Amy Tan and David Henry Hwang, it explored Kingston's life, paying particular attention to her commentary on cultural heritage and both sexual and racial oppression. The production was awarded the CINE Golden Eagle in 1990.[5] Kingston also participated in the production of Bill Moyers' PBS historical documentary, Becoming American: The Chinese Experience.

Kingston was awarded the 1997 National Humanities Medal by President of the United States Bill Clinton. She was a member of the committee to choose the design for the California commemorative quarter.

Kingston was arrested on International Women's Day (March 8) in 2003. Participating in an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. that was coordinated by the women-initiated organization Code Pink, Kingston refused to leave the street after being instructed to do so by local police forces. She shared a jail cell with authors Alice Walker and Terry Tempest Williams who were also participants in the demonstration. Kingston's anti-war stance has significantly trickled into her work; she has stated that writing The Fifth Book of Peace was initiated and inspired by growing up during World War II.

Kingston was honored as a 175th Speaker Series writer at Emma Willard School in September 2005. In April, 2007, Kingston was awarded the Northern California Book Award Special Award in Publishing for Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace (2006), an anthology which she edited.

In July, 2014, Kingston was awarded the 2013 National Medal of Arts by President of the United States Barack Obama.


In an interview published in American Literary History, Kingston disclosed her admiration for Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, and William Carlos Williams, who were inspirational influences for her work, shaping her analysis of gender studies. Kingston said of Walt Whitman's work,

"I like the rhythm of his language and the freedom and the wildness of it. It's so American. And also his vision of a new kind of human being that was going to be formed in this country—although he never specifically said Chinese—ethnic Chinese also—I'd like to think he meant all kinds of people. And also I love that throughout Leaves of Grass he always says 'men and women,' 'male and female.' He's so different from other writers of his time, and even of this time. Even a hundred years ago he included women and he always used [those phrases], 'men and women,' 'male and female.'"[6]

Kingston named the main character of Tripmaster Monkey, Wittman Ah Sing, after Walt Whitman.

Of Woolf, Kingston stated:

"I found that whenever I come to a low point in my life or in my work, when I read Virginia Woolf's Orlando, that always seems to get my life force moving again. I just love the way she can make one character live for four hundred years, and that Orlando can be a man. Orlando can be a woman. Virginia broke through constraints of time, of gender, of culture."[6]

Similarly, Kingston's praise of William Carlos Williams expresses her appreciation of his seemingly genderless work:

"I love In the American Grain because it does the same thing. Abraham Lincoln is a 'mother' of our country. He talks about this wonderful woman walking through the battlefields with her beard and shawl. I find that so freeing, that we don't have to be constrained to being just one ethnic group or one gender-- both [Woolf and Williams] make me feel that I can now write as a man, I can write as a black person, as a white person; I don't have to be restricted by time and physicality."[6]

Criticism and debate

Though Kingston's work is highly acclaimed, it has also received criticism, especially from some members of the Chinese American community. American playwright and novelist Frank Chin has severely criticized Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, claiming that she had tainted the purity of Chinese tradition in reinterpreting traditional stories and myths. Chin has accused Kingston of "liberally adapting [traditional stories] to collude with white racist stereotypes and to invent a 'fake' Chinese-American culture that is more palatable to the mainstream."[7]

Kingston commented on her critics' opinions in a 1990 interview in which she stated that men believe that minority women writers have "achieved success by collaborating with the white racist establishment," by "pander[ing] to the white taste for feminist writing... It's a one-sided argument because the women don't answer. We let them say those things because we don't want to be divisive."[8]


Selected works


  1. This was the award for hardcover "General Nonfiction".
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were several nonfiction subcategories including General Nonfiction, with dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories.


  1. 1 2 "Maxine Hong Kingston: Chronology". eNotes. Archived from the original on 2009-07-15. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 1965–1967: Kingston teaches English and mathematics at Sunset High School in Hayward, California. She is active in the protest movement against the Vietnam War.
  2. 1 2 3 "National Book Awards – 1981". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-11.
  4. "Maxine Hong Kingston". University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  5. CINE Golden Eagle Award Archives
  6. 1 2 3 American Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 782-791
  7. "Frank Chin (1940-)." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 135. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. 150-202. Literature Criticism Online. Gale. St. John's University Library. 10 April 2009
  8. Chin, Marilyn. "A MELUS Interview: Maxine Hong Kingston." MELUS, Vol. 16, No. 4, Toward the Multiculture (Winter, 1989 – Winter, 1990), pp. 57-74
  9. "Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards | The 80th Annual". Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards | The 80th Annual. Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  10. "Maxine Hong Kingston, 2008 Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Foundation, Presenter of National Book Awards". Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  11. "Maxine Hong Kingston | National Endowment for the Humanities". Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  12. "Distinguished Contribution to American Letters". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-10. (With acceptance speech by Kingston.)
  13. "National Medal of Arts | NEA". Retrieved 2016-03-23.
  14. Affairs, Public; 28, UC Berkeley | July; 9, 2014July; 2015. "Maxine Hong Kingston wins National Medal of Arts". Berkeley News. Retrieved 2016-03-23.
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