Maxine Hong Kingston is probably most famous for her first two books, The Woman Warrior and China Men, which explore Chinese-American identity from different angles. The author is joined by 9 other nationally prominent artists and an arts organization in receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama today at the White House in Washington, D.C. Other recipients include Hollywood studio CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, groundbreaking visual artist James Turrell, poet Julia Alvarez and — another (recent) Bay Area local, singer Linda Rondstadt.
See the ceremony streamed live at 12 noon Pacific Time (3pm ET) at WH.gov/Live
Kingston, who was the first of her siblings born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants, grew up in Stockton, CA. In the above clip from a 1990 KQED Documentary, Maxine Hong Kingston: Talking Story (produced by Joan Saffa and Steve Talbot), she remembers her childhood home populated with family stories and the “ghosts” of ancestors. Her debut book, 1975’s The Woman Warrior was subtitled “Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts.” In this clip, Kingston describes herself as haunted — even tormented — by the spirit of an aunt whose tragic story she is compelled to tell.
A work of creative non-fiction, The Woman Warrior combines Chinese folktales with autobiographical materials to form a complex portrait of U.S. Chinese (mostly female) identity. In the KQED documentary, the book is cited as a feminist work, addressing the favored status of males within the traditional Chinese family. Kingston followed that book in 1980, with China Men, a collection of stories about the men in her family. At the time Talking Story was released, Kingston was doing readings for her first novel, 1989’s Tripmaster Monkey, which chronicles the adventures of a U.C. Berkeley grad in 1960s San Francisco.
Herself a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Kingston is being honored for “her novels and non-fiction, [which] have examined how the past influences our present… [and] strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender, and race.”