Maxine Hong Kingston
Saturday, May 5, 1:00 pm
Presenting with Phyllis Hoge on her upcoming book of poetry, Hello, House, illustrations done by Maxine Hong Kingston
Sunday, May 6, 12:00 pm
Presenting James D. Houston‘s posthumous novel, A Queen’s Journey. Eddie Kamae will join in with music to celebrate his collaborations with James Houston.
Title of latest book: I Love a Broad Margin to My Life
Genre: Poetry; memoir
Alfred A. Knopf , Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (New York); January 2011
Hardcover; $24.95; 240 pages; not illustrated
Paperback; $15.00; 240 pages; not illustrated
Kindle/Nook/iTunes version; $12.99
The book: In her singular voice—humble, elegiac, practical—Maxine Hong Kingston sets out to reflect on aging as she turns sixty-five.
Kingston’s swift, effortlessly flowing verse lines feel instantly natural in this fresh approach to the art of memoir, as 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 (“can’t divorce until we get it right. / Love, that is. Get love right”) to her arrest at a peace march in Washington, where she and her “sisters” protested the Iraq war in the George W. Bush years. Kingston embraces Thoreau’s notion of a “broad margin,” hoping to expand her vista: “I’m standing on top of a hill; / I can see everywhichway— / the long way that I came, and the few / places I have yet to go. Treat / my whole life as if it were a day.”
On her journeys as writer, peace activist, teacher, and mother, Kingston revisits her most beloved characters: she learns the final fate of her Woman Warrior, and she takes her Tripmaster Monkey, a hip Chinese American, on a journey through China, where he has never been—a trip that becomes a beautiful meditation on the country then and now, on a culture where rice farmers still work in the age-old way, even as a new era is dawning. “All over China,” she writes, “and places where Chinese are, populations / are on the move, going home. That home / where Mother and Father are buried. Doors / between heaven and earth open wide.”
Such is the spirit of this wonderful book—a sense of doors opening wide onto an American life of great purpose and joy, and the tonic wisdom of a writer we have come to cherish.
But Kingston’s disillusionment and despair are no match for her fierce longing to change the world, and she presses on. She describes her 2003 arrest for demonstrating against the war in Iraq in front of the White House. (She and Alice Walker were briefly jailed together.) “We staged/ a theater of peace, recited poems—and did not/ stop our country from war.” While she seems almost surprised that her modest protest didn’t halt the war machine, she stubbornly, against all evidence, retains her faith in the efficacy of her activism. “I believe: because of constant/ protests, the tonnage of bombs was not as massive/ as planned. And we hit fewer civilian areas./ The peace we have made shall have consequences.”
“She leads the reader on a tour of her native China, her rich language often matching the lushness of the landscape itself. . . . Effortlessly transitions from personal experience to the worlds of her characters. . . . As much an examination of the nature of time and aging as it is an exploration of cultural identity and origin, I Love a Broad Margin to my Life contains both moments of dark alienation and buoyant transcendence.”
“Nine perfect lines.”
That’s what word warrior Maxine Hong Kingston says she wrote every day to complete her new, 229-page, free-verse poem-memoir, “I Love a Broad Margin to My Life.”
Q: How does the Hawaii Book & Music Festival compare to other book events?
A: This is my third invitation to speak at the Honolulu event. The most wonderful thing is that I get to meet my readers. At other book fairs we speak in a big auditorium, but there are no informal places for us to gather and meet. The first two visits were about vets. This one is about being a veteran writer moving into poetry.
Kingston is thinking deeply about the act of writing itself. She considers the possibility of a writing practice — like Song’s — whose sole intent is not preservation or reflection, but to live in the ephemeral present. “I sit here writing in the dark,” Kingston writes, “can’t see to change these penciled words.” And later: “This well-deep outpouring is not for / anything.”
Throughout the memoir, in fact, the political cries for social justice keep Kingston’s narratives from falling too far into private navel-gazing, or mirror-gazing for that matter. For every line, in which Kingston is “looking in mirrors, and singling / out [her] face in group photographs,” we are offered a moment with another civic self, engaged in political activism. In one of the book’s most interesting sequences, Kingston describes a protest against the Iraq War, where she finds herself eventually arrested alongside Angela Davis.
While in Hawai‘i, Maxine Hong 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. Kingston is also one of few people to have been named a “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i.” She was the youngest to be given that honor.
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 and her husband, Earll Kingston, 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.
Here’s a clip of Maxine Hong Kingston reading from I Love a Broad Margin to My Life at last year’s festival
Kingston’s other books:
Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts; Vintage; April 23, 1989
China Men; Vintage; 1989
Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book; Vintage; June 1990
Conversations With Maxine Hong Kingston (Literary Conversations Series); University Press of Mississippi; First edition. August 1998
Hawai’i One Summer; University of Hawaii Press; December 1998
To Be the Poet; The William E. Massey, Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization; Harvard University Press; First Edition edition; September 16, 2002
The Fifth Book of Peace; Vintage; 2004