Maxine Hong Kingston, photo by Robin Holland
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May 25, 2007

On Memorial Day weekend, the JOURNAL presents an illuminating interview with Maxine Hong Kingston, acclaimed author of many books including the award-winning THE WOMAN WARRIOR and her latest book VETERANS OF WAR, VETERANS OF PEACE. For the past 15 years, Kingston has been working with veterans — more than 500 soldiers from World War II, from Vietnam, and now, from Iraq — as well as other survivors of war to convert the horrors they experienced into the words and stories that Kingston believes will help them cope and survive. (Read excerpts from the collection of writings by veterans and their families.)

Maxine Hong Kingston began writing at the age of nine ("I was in the fourth grade and all of a sudden this poem started coming out of me"). She won her first writing award-a journalism contest at UC Berkeley-when she was sixteen. In 1976 THE NEW YORK TIMES praised her first book, THE WOMAN WARRIOR, comparing it to Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, saying, "It is an investigation of soul . . . Its sources are dream and memory, myth and desire. Its crises are crises of the heart in exile from roots that bind and terrorize it." At the age of thirty-six, she was a celebrity, winning the National Book Critic's Circle Award. Other books would follow, and the praise would continue to be unstinting. In 1980, she was named a Living Treasure of Hawai'i by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai'i.

In 1991, following a massive fire in the Oakland-Berkeley hills that consumed Maxine's house and the only copy of her manuscript-in process, THE FOURTH BOOK OF PEACE, and as the first President Bush was ordering the invasion of Iraq, she began offering writing and meditation workshops for veterans, to help them give voice to their experiences and work toward personal peace. As she'd hoped, the writing became a process of healing and renewal not just for the veterans but also for Maxine. She drew on the experience of these workshops in THE FIFTH BOOK OF PEACE.

In 1997, Maxine Hong Kingston was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton. In March 2003, she was arrested for crossing a police line at the White House as part of a CODEPINK action to protest the Iraq War.

She retired last year from her career teaching literature and creative writing, mostly at UC Berkeley, where she was known for offering personalized instruction to each student, even in auditorium-sized classes, encouraging "real communication."

References and Reading:
For nearly fifteen years under Maxine Hong Kingston's guidance, members of the Veterans Writing Group have told, written, and rewritten their stories. Many of the works have been collected in VETERANS OF WAR, VETERANS OF PEACE. Read excerpts from the book online.

THE AMERICAN NOVEL: Maxine Hong Kingston
Profile of Maxine Hong Kingston from PBS' 2007 series THE AMERICAN NOVEL. The Web site contains an extensive interactive timeline of works from 1826 to today.

Related Media:
WATCH Maxine Hong Kingston from WORLD OF IDEAS: Watch Bill Moyers' 1990 interview with Maxine Hong Kingston from the WORLD OF IDEAS series. Kingston and Moyers discuss Kingston's works THE WOMAN WARRIOR, CHINA MEN and TRIPMASTER MONKEY: HIS FAKE BOOK as well as her work with veterans.

In the saga of American immigration, the Chinese experience is relatively unknown. But it's a dramatic story of struggle and triumph, progress and setbacks, discrimination and assimilation.

Photo by Robin Holland

Published May 25, 2007

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Bill Moyers sits down with Chinese-American author Maxine Hong Kingston to discuss poetry, war and the transformative power of stories.

Read exceprts of writings collected from Maxine Hong Kingston's workshops with veterans and their families.

Learn about how to contribute to a national veterans archive project, view information about veterans' benefits, rights and programs in your area, and visit veteran-related program pages from other PBS shows.

D-Day Vets. This special edition of Bill Moyers Journal features D-Day veterans in the poignant D-Day Revisited, which explores the sometimes painful memories of their wartime experiences.

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