Title: Maxine Hong Kingston
When: Wed, Oct 27 2004 | 8 PM
: Rutgers Student Center. Multipurpose Room - New Brunswick
: Writers at Rutgers Reading Series

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Admission: Free and open to the Rutgers community and the general public
The reading will be followed by a reception and book signing

Maxine Hong Kingston was born in Stockton, California in 1940. She was the first of six American-born children in a Chinese family whose oral storytelling traditions have been a major influence on her work. Kingston first learned English in school, having been raised speaking a dialect of Cantonese. At the early age of nine she developed a love for writing verse, and the young poet was always considered one of the brightest students in her classes. Her exceptional academic record led to eleven different scholarships to University of California at Berkeley, where she developed her passion to write.

While at Berkeley, Kingston also found a second passion in activism. She participated in the Civil Rights movement, war protests, and became an advocate for nonviolence throughout the sixties. In her latest book, The Fifth Book of Peace, she voices her opinions on the Vietnam War and the current war in Iraq. The book is named for the partially completed manuscript of her book The Fourth Book of Peace, which she lost when her house burned down. She has said that her father’s death and the loss of her home during the fire were major influences on the book. Though the book contains many images of fire and war, it is indeed a book a peace, and Kingston's writing focuses on poetically peaceful moments in an attempt to shape a literary form in the spirit of nonviolence.

Kingston’s earlier works include the groundbreaking autobiography and National Book Critic's Circle Award-winning The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, and the follow-up, China Men, which won the National Book Award. Kingston has written in several different genres, but she has said recently that she would like to return to her first love, poetry.

Kingston is Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California , Berkeley . Her memoirs and fiction include The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and Hawai’i One Summer. She has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the PEN West Award for Fiction, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the title of “Living Treasure of Hawai’i.”

Excerpt from The Fifth Book of Peace

As always, there was a stillness at St. Albert’s College; either the monks had evacuated the seminary, or they were staying hidden. You hardly ever see them in the garden or out on the tennis courts anyway. The atmosphere feels full of prayer. The row of elm trees—grandmother tree, grandfather tree—stood unharmed. This was the first tree seen by me as a child, and is more magnificent each time I find another one. Some people call them Chinese elms, some call them American elms. Here was a stand of nine elms, here before I was here, and meant to outlast me. I do not remember touching them, each one, the elephant bark, the horned-toad bark, the crocogator bark, as I usually do; I must have rushed past. Their jigjag leaves were a strong green, though October was ending, and my fiftieth year was ending.


Five Responses from Maxine Hong Kingston

(Excerpts compiled by Kasey Cullen, from “A Conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston”)

1.   On the title of the book:

1R. A long time ago in China, there were three Books of Peace, all lost, probably in library fires. At changes of regimes, the Chinese destroy the former culture. I searched all over the world for those three lost Books of Peace, and when I found no trace of them, I set to work writing one for our time. I'd been working for two years when the Oakland- Berkeley Hills fire destroyed my book, which I called The Fourth Book of Peace. To have that book of peace destroyed in a fire, like its ancestors, I thought I must have been on to something cosmic. I am so relieved that The Fifth Book of Peace is out of my hands and out of the house, untouched by fire.

2.   On getting back to writing after the loss of her house to a fire:

2R. My garret writing room had burned. I took that as a sign that perhaps I ought not to go on in the tradition of the solitary writer. I decided to gather a community of writers around me. I sent out a call for war veterans to come write with me; we would tell one another our stories.

3.   On how her Book of Peace has changed since the loss of the original manuscript:

3R. The book before the fire was fiction, the story of Wittman Ah Sing finding a decent way to live during the war in Viet Nam […] When this writing was burned in the fire, I lost the desire to write fiction. I could not care for make-believe characters anymore. So I spent the next few years expressing my own feelings and thoughts, and writing about real people.

4.  On her brothers’ fighting in Vietnam and her involvement in peace movements:

4R. At our current peace demonstrations, I see parents and spouses of troops calling for peace… I wholeheartedly support our troops—that they neither kill nor be killed, that they come safely home. That they not be sent off and put in harm’s way in the first place.

5.  On the process of building peace:

5R. I was surprised to discover how much one small person such as myself can do—and how happy I was. I am coming up with a new rule for living: Only do things that make you happy, and you will create the peaceful world.