In her singular voice—both humble and brave, touching and humorous—Maxine Hong Kingston gives us a poignant and beautiful memoir-in-verse that captures the wisdom that comes with age. As she reflects on her sixty-five years, she circles from present to past and back, from lunch with a writer friend to the funeral of a Vietnam veteran, from her long marriage to her arrest at a peace march in Washington. On her journeys as writer, peace activist, teacher, and mother, she revisits her most beloved characters—Wittman Ah-Sing, the Tripmaster Monkey, and Fa Mook Lan, the Woman Warrior—and presents us with a beautiful meditation on China then and now. The result is a marvelous account of an American life of great purpose and joy, and the tonic wisdom of a writer we have come to cherish.
Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who operated a gambling house in the 1940s, when Maxine was born, and then a laundry where Kingston and her brothers and sisters toiled long hours. Kingston graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley, and, in the same year, married actor Earll Kingston, whom she had met in an English course. The couple has one son, Joseph, who was born in 1963. They were active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but in 1967 the Kingstons headed for Japan to escape the increasing violence and drugs of the antiwar movement. They settled instead in Hawai‘i, where Kingston took various teaching posts. They returned to California seventeen years later, and Kingston resumed teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.
While in Hawai‘i, Kingston wrote her first two books. The Woman Warrior, her first book, was published in 1976 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, making her a literary celebrity at age thirty-six. Her second book, China Men, earned the National Book Award. Still today, both books are widely taught in literature and other classes. Kingston has earned additional awards, including the PEN West Award for Fiction for Tripmaster Monkey, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President Clinton, as well as the title “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” bestowed by a Honolulu Buddhist church. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawai‘i One Summer, and latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.