Language, ideas and lasting stories have the power to manifest into something greater than loose pages bound by mere thread and staples. Once in a while, a piece of literature comes along and changes everything – even history.
Today, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Buehler Alumni Center, the University Writing Program continues its Conversation with Writers series with the legendary Maxine Hong Kingston. The Asian Cultural Politics Research group is co-sponsoring the event.
Maxine Hong Kingston is the renowned author of the 1976 release The Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Childhood Among Ghosts. Combined with China Men (1980), winner of the 1981 National Book Award, Tripmaster Monkey, To Be the Poet and The Fifth Book of Peace, Kingston revolutionized Chinese American literature, and became a major force in the feminist movement. In 1997, President Bill Clinton awarded Kingston the National Humanities Medal for her work and activism.
Christopher Thaiss, director and chair of the program, believes the Conversation with Writers series plays a large role in sparking students’ interest in writing and literature. And today’s addition will do just that.
“The goal of the UWP is to educate and, we hope, inspire students across all majors to develop their writing talents,” Thaiss said. “Our Conversations with Writers series plays an important role by asking our renowned guests to describe their own development as writers, and to share with our audiences of students, faculty and members of the Davis community advice and wisdom about how to develop their talents and interests through writing. In the questions students ask of our guests and the answers our guests give, there is further opportunity for learning. I expect that students and faculty will gain these kinds of knowledge from our guest today.”
Recent MLA polls reveal Kingston’s The Woman Warrior to be the most taught piece of contemporary literature on today’s college campuses. Karma Waltonen, who is also a lecturer in the program, has taught Kingston’s works herself. The decision to invite Kingston to be a key speaker in the series was an easy one, as well as personal, for Waltonen.
“One of the members of the University Writing Program suggested we invite Ms. Kingston; he was involved in her veterans’ writing group (veterans of war and veterans of war protesting) and thus had her contact information. I was so excited when given the opportunity to contact her about coming here,” Waltonen said. “I first read her work when I was in high school, and it electrified me. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching The Woman Warrior and China Men several times. Last spring, I led a discussion of The Woman Warrior for the Roseville Public Library’s book group, and Ms. Kingston was kind enough to join us on the phone.”
Kingston was immediately receptive to the invitation to speak for the Conversations with Writers series, Waltonen added.
Kingston was born in Stockton, Calif. and raised by first generation Chinese immigrants. Her works reveal great themes and discussion about cultural identity and gender roles and how these topics particularly affect women in society.
“I am working on freeing myself as an artist, freeing my voice. Maybe it also comes with my upbringing,” Kingston said in a 2009 interview in Philadelphia Stories, a nonprofit literary magazine. “I come from immigrant parents and am always trying to bring two cultures together, always trying to find where the common ground is.”
But perhaps what makes Kingston’s work so endearing is her ability to blend non-fictional elements to her fictional novels. Kingston has lived a life of strong political activism and often, her passion for peace and justice seeps through into her writings.
“Ms. Kingston’s work is essential reading for many reasons,” Waltonen said. “The Woman Warrior is a seminal text in Asian American studies, women’s studies and creative non-fiction. Her work is characterized by poetic prose, a postmodern blending of fact and fiction and the revision of classical myths from Eastern and Western cultures.
“Her latest piece of autobiography, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, is basically an epic poem. I just finished it and loved it. She writes about her family, a trip to China, finding out the real ending to the Fa Mu Lan story, and protesting (and being arrested for protesting) the war in Iraq, among other things. Ms. Kingston writes and works for peace and for veterans’ and workers’ rights.”
For more information about Maxine Hong Kingston or the Conversation with Writers series, visit writing.ucdavis.edu.
UYEN CAO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.