Maxine Hong Kingston

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Maxine Hong Kingston (2006)

Maxine Hong Kingston (born October 27, 1940) is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.


  • Joy and life exist nowhere but the present.
    • I Love a Broad Margin To My Life (2011), p.113, Random House
  • The poem begins: I am turning 65 years of age. And so I am thinking about how am I growing old. How am I becoming an elder? How am I becoming an elder? I would love to go back to China and be old because there we hear that older people are loved and appreciated. I can't grow old in America. America is a country for young people. So I can't grow old here. Should I go back to China and grow old there? So those are the questions that I'm asking…
  • I feel that it's part of my work as an artist, a creator, a human being, is to integrate and to be more inclusive and to define American as large and not as exclusive.
  • I see these soldiers, people coming back from the wars, and they are so wounded. They are so hurt from what they have experienced and the actions which they have made in the world. And now there is work to be done in pulling our country together and the world together. That's the work that comes after a war. It's how to make peace and how to make the world whole again.
  • In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; one peaceful moment.
    • The Fifth Book of Peace (2003)
  • Humans are basically good. That's why it takes so much training to march march march kill kill kill kill.
    • The Fifth Book of Peace (2003)
  • war is utter destructive violent chaos. There is no "art," no "order(s)," no "just war." No matter what the ideologies, wars are the same.

“’I Can Write My Shadow’: Alexis Cheung Interviews Maxine Hong Kingston” in Los Angeles Review of Books (2016 Dec 22)[edit]

  • When I was writing The Woman Warrior, I felt that I was writing something completely different; that nothing like it had ever been written. So I thought if I couldn’t get it published, I would just keep copies and it would really be okay if it was published after I die or if somebody discovered it 100 years from now, 1,000 years from now. I’m always thinking about people reading it someday — and that will be alright.
    • On how she initially didn’t want to publish The Woman Warrior
  • Remember when the narrator is bullying the other girl? She says to her, “Just say ‘ow.’ Just say anything, just make a sound.” I guess that’s the first step: make a sound. I think for everybody that just being able to speak up is a bravery, which they have to learn. But for a writer, it’s to be able to find a style and a rhythm and a structure to be able to tell a story. I think that is another way of finding voice, and it’s not that easy….
    • On a writer finding their voice
  • Writing is an act of nonviolence, but it’s very active, very aggressive, but you’re not setting off bombs or guns. Just using the pen. It’s like shouting and getting your voice heard and the range is worldwide. You might not be able to stop a war right now, but the words can go out and influence the atmosphere and the world, way into the future.
    • On how writing is both nonviolent and aggressive
  • I think that individual voices are not as strong as a community of voices. If we can make a community of voices, then we can speak more truth. Also in a community, we learn to listen…
    • On the strength of a community

Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston (1998)[edit]

  • I am looking for a language of peace. I am trying to rewrite a book of peace. And so maybe that is fighting for the soul, not just of Chinese American people, but the human soul. I want the human soul to be one where people care for one another and where people cherish and nourish and value one another, and I am trying to think of ways of conflict resolution that have to do with talking or hugging or something, whereas his idea of conflict resolution is to kill each other. (1991)
  • One of the things he (Thích Nhất Hạnh) says is that we don't know how to feel peace. We don't understand the joy that is peace. We think that it's boring. And that is an aesthetic and a social perception. He is dealing with many of these same problems we are facing, and I just know he has some answers. (1991)
  • I think that in order to recognize a warm-hearted human being, you have to be a warm-hearted human being yourself. (1993)
  • One of the wonderful things about the 1960s was language. There was a new language and there were wonderful new ways of describing psychedelic states, spiritual states, trying to find new words for political actions like those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. What do you call that when you sit at the lunch counter and you don't move and you do it with peace and love? (1993)
  • I travel a lot, and I know that I communicate very well in person, on one to one, but the books say things in a better way than I can get verbally, and also it works so efficiently, with those books getting out all over the world. (1990)
  • I did feel that I was going back to a place that I had never been. (1986)
    • about visiting China for the first time
  • The power of imagination leads us to what's real... it's a bridge toward reality. (1986)
  • I am creating part of American literature, and I was very aware of doing that, of adding to American literature. The critics haven't recognized my work enough as another tradition of American literature. (1986)
  • For fiction, we fantasize about what we would like to happen: I am making what I would like to happen happen. And so, this writing always feels new and going forward. If there is such a thing as reverse memory, maybe that's what I am getting into; because it seems to me, I'm writing the memory of the future rather than a memory of the past. (1986)
  • I've heard that before, from writers who say that I get them going again. It makes me feel that in my life I am at the source of life and words. I feel that I'm sort of standing over this hole in the universe, and it's all pouring in. I can be a conduit. The people who read my work feel more alive, and they can work. I feel like that about other writers that make me keep going. When I read Virginia Woolf's Orlando or William Carlos Williams's In the American Grain, I can feel like I'm dying, or I'm stuck, both in life and in work. I read those books, and then I start flowing again. I'm happy that I can do that for other people. (1989)
  • When you are a person who comes from a multicultural background it just means that you have more information coming in from the universe. And it's your task to figure out how it all integrates, figure out its order and its beauty. It's a harder, longer struggle. (1989)
  • There is a refusal to understand that an American can look like one of us and doesn't have to be white. (1989)
  • I was really shocked when I came out with my first book. At that time there were some Asian American men who were all we had of our literary community. And I expected, when my book came out, for them to say, welcome. Welcome to the community of artists. Because there are so few of us. So here's another one to add strength to our numbers. And, instead, the men just right away went into this big thing. It's a very crazy plot they have in their heads. Their assessment of the publishing industry is so wrong. (1989)
  • a lot of Chinese Americans get mad, because they say my experience is nothing like theirs. Of course, they may come from a different class of people; they come from a different generation of migration; they're a different generation American. There aren't enough books out there. If there were lots of books, then you could see the variety of people in the books, reflecting the variety of people in life. But since there aren't a whole lot of books... (1989)
  • These struggles have got to result in happy endings for all, and the readers must learn not to worship tragedy as the highest art any more. (1990)
  • I think that feminist writers have been writing with power and pride, but I am suggesting that we have to invent new images and ways of power. So far the world thinks of power as violence, that power comes from a gun. We must create a new kind of drama in which there is drama, but it's nonviolent. And this has barely been thought of. (1990)
  • I hope when artists write new characters, we invent new archetypes and they are visions of ways that we can be...What we need to do is to be able to imagine the possibility of a playful, peaceful, nurturing, mothering man, and we need to imagine the possibilities of a powerful, nonviolent woman and the possibilities of harmonious communities and if we can just imagine them, that would be the first step toward building them and becoming them. (1990)
  • what I want is to give people questions (which I think are very creative things) and then when people wrestle with them and struggle with them in their own minds and in their own lives, all kinds of exciting things happen to them. I don't want people to throw the responsibility back to me. (1990)
  • There's a redemption that takes place in art (1990)
  • It's always important to tell the truth because if you don't, there are all kinds of terrible social and psychological consequences. There are implosions and crazinesses that take place when you keep important energies and forces locked up inside of yourself. I think that some of our truths are things that are not dealt with in standard autobiography. I think that dreams are very important to women-and important to everybody's psyche-and to have access to those dreams is a great power. Also visions that we have about what we might do, also prayers-that's another "silent, secret" kind of thing. I think part of what we have to do is figure out a new kind of autobiography that can tell the truth about dreams and visions and prayers. I find that absolutely necessary for our mental and political health. I think the standard autobiography is about exterior things, like when you were born and what you participate in-big historical events that you publicly participate in-and those kinds of autobiographies ignore the rich, personal inner life. I feel that it's a mission for me to invent a new autobiographical form that truly tells the inner life of women, and I do think it's especially important for minority people, because we're always on the brink of disappearing. (1990)
  • One of the first things I ever noticed and loved about reading is that words can get through all kinds of barriers; they can get through skin color and culture. It's so easy to read and go through all kinds of struggles with an author. I love the way, when we read, we actually take on the mind of the person that we're reading. (1990)
  • I've heard people say, "Why don't you write about rich, successful Chinese American people? Why don't you write real role models?" I think I do write about the great emotional, psychological struggles. I'm not that interested in writing Horatio Alger stories. I think of myself as somebody who's been given a gift of an amazing literary voice, and so I want to be the voice of the voiceless. I'm not that interested in being the voice of a wealthy, corporate Chinese American executive. (1990)
  • I feel that I break through pigeonholes of what's fiction and what's nonfiction, of what an autobiography is. (1990)
  • I feel that the writing process doesn't just begin when you are putting words on paper. It begins in the living that you do before, and I feel powerful enough now so that I can set up my daily living circumstances in order to support me and support my art. I do a lot of this by instinct (1993)
  • what I wanted to do was... I was going to write against the minimalist novel in order to write a global novel. The reason I was thinking of a global novel was that I began to notice that every city that I went to anywhere in the world is a cosmopolitan city. You come to Beijing, London, anywhere, and you are surrounded by people from all over the world. Every country has had its diaspora and everybody is going everywhere, and so in order to write a story about any city, any American city or any other city, you have to be able to write characters from every cultural background. A story of a city is also the story of all the people on the entire planet. (1993)
  • All during the Vietnam War, I could feel there was a darkness hanging over the whole world and it lasted for so long. (1993)
  • If we imagine characters, can we cause them to appear in the real world? What if I could strongly write peace, I can cause an end to war. (1993)
  • I do believe that our lives and our art go together. Who I am and what I write are the same. (1993)
  • The way I've looked at it is that I want to write about myself and other people in the truest way possible. To write a true autobiography or biography, I have to know what the other person dreams and how her imagination works. I am less interested in dates and facts. (1993)
  • I have this motto which is, Pay attention and tell the truth. And in telling the truth, sometimes you tell it fictionally, sometimes you tell it nonfictionally. (1993)
  • I've spent too many years carrying writing as if it were a burden that's only mine. I want to tell everybody, and young people too, that there are many things that we must do in community. I wish I had started sooner. (1993)
  • I don't want to regurgitate. Writing should be constantly an act of creation and going forward into the new. (1993)
  • (Q: "will that be your major goal-to achieve peace?") Yes, yes-to put out into the world a vision of peaceful living and of how human beings can relate to one another harmoniously and joyfully and how groups of people come together. I feel that peace has hardly been imagined. It is rarely dramatized in the theater, in the movies, even in books. (1993)
  • remembrance and that happiness are mourning, too, transformed. (1993)
  • I do believe that if we study any one discipline deeply, it will connect us to everything else. (1993)
  • (Q: "In your Book of Peace, what would you be claiming?") Oh, what would I be claiming this time? What I would like to do is claim evolution that we can evolve past being a warring species into a peaceful species so that we are not predators anymore, and that we stop being carnivorous. If only we could stop being cannibals (1993)
  • I think that if a person doesn't read, maybe they cannot come out of themselves. You know you delineated a . I think a growth process of human development…first there is an awareness of the ego, the self, and then of another and many others to become a communal person. And we need to go even beyond that our family, tribe, Chinatown, gang, nation-into a larger selflessness or agape. I think it is a very rare person who will take on public and global responsibilities... Reading and writing should expand and transform the self. (1993)

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976)[edit]

  • Hunger also changes the world - when eating can't be a habit, then neither can seeing.
  • We're all under the same sky and walk the same earth; we're alive together during the same moment.
  • I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.
  • The difference between mad people and sane people... is that sane people have variety when they talk-story. Mad people have only one story that they talk over and over.
  • Attraction eludes control so stubbornly that whole societies designed to organize relationships among people cannot keep order, not even when they bind people to one another from childhood and raise them together.
  • I've learned exactly who the enemy are. I easily recognize them-business-suited in their modern American executive guise, each boss two feet taller than I am and impossible to meet eye to eye.
  • I had to get out of hating range.

Quotes about Maxine Hong Kingston[edit]

  • When I read Maxine Hong Kingston's memoir, The Woman Warrior, it struck me with particular force because of the warrior fantasies I had had in my childhood... At the heart of her drama is the tension between fantasy and insanity, balanced with exquisite skill.
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • The Woman Warrior was a very important book in my life. I discovered it in 1977…in Amherst, Massachusetts. I was an undergraduate there...for a long time I was in despair. I thought, there was really no audience for my voice. And the narrator, the protagonist in The Woman Warrior, she was working hard to let her voice out. She had to wade through the contradictions of this dual culture, this heavy-duty heritage. If she had the power and the fortitude to continue her 'pressed duck' voice, to eke out that voice, I said, perhaps so must I continue my struggle.
    • Marilyn Chin 1989 interview in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston (1998)
  • I love Maxine Hong Kingston. The Woman Warrior-what a wonderful book that was for me. That gave me permission to keep going with what I'd started with House on Mango Street.
    • Sandra Cisneros In Interviews with Writers of the Post-Colonial World edited by Feroza Jussawalla and Reed Way Dasenbrock (1992)
  • Asian American writers like Maxine Hong Kingston are aware of that too: that you can think in another language and borrow from its sensibility, from its syntax and idiomatic phrasing to add something new to the English language
    • Sandra Cisneros 1991 interview in Conversations with Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Writers edited by Hector A. Torres (2007)
  • The woman is exceptional.
    • Charles Elliot, 1979 article in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston (1998)
  • The "unknown" is often depicted in racist literature as the "darkness" within a person. Similarly, sexist writers will refer to fear in the form of the vagina, calling it "the orifice of death." In contrast, it is a pleasure to read works such as Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior, where fear and alienation are described as "the white ghosts." And yet, the bulk of literature in this country reinforces the myth that what is dark and female is evil. Consequently, each of us-whether dark, female, or both-has in some way internalized this oppressive imagery. What the oppressor often succeeds in doing is simply externalizing his fears, projecting them into the bodies of women, Asians, gays, disabled folks, whoever seems most "other."
  • makes me feel seen:) The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. One of the first books where I saw my multiple identities—American, Chinese, daughter—on the page, and after all these years it’s still one of the most powerful.
  • what I don't like is the word "fiction." I think it's a false word, and it's led to "non-fiction." I mean, you're either a storyteller, an inventor in language or event or whatever, or a poet of storytelling-or you're not I guess I'd use the example of Maxine Hong Kingston, who for The Woman Warrior got a non-fiction award. Well, that really got me sore, because that really was a great work of storytelling.
    • 1980 interview in Conversations with Grace Paley (1997)

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