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What Maxine Hong Kingston dreams of ... and writes

April 27, 2008 | 12:30 pm

Hong Maxine Hong Kingston was dreamy.

"I come from a culture that dreams are a part of," Kingston told the audience about the power of the unconscious imagination during a chat at Schoenberg Hall on Sunday. The novelist who lives in Oakland was awarded the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement on Friday night as part of the L.A. Times Book Prizes. The award honors authors with a connection to the American West whose works have made a substantial contribution to American letters.

These dreams have driven works like "Woman Warrior," and most recently "Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace." Not to be fooled by her small 5-foot frame and quiet voice, she dreams big -- and she shared a few of her visions with Times books editor David Ulin. Ulin said that despite all the Chinese mythology and imagery, he sees Kingston’s work as American.

Kingston, who is Chinese American, said: "When people say these are Chinese writings ... they are looking at the myths I write." Kingston seemed calm and downright motherly during the question-and-answer period. She said she uses mythology and stories that were passed on to her to try and capture the feeling of other myths.

"It was a myth that was already out there; I was like Columbus." Her use of Chinese mythology and dream-like writing has garnered her a reputation for changing the definition of her writing. "I never defined the genre. I just called it a book," Kingston said. "I described China like the one in our imagination."

Kingston said she follows the tradition of passing stories on orally or "talk the little story ... I wanted to see in a written language, if I can gather those powers."

Kristopher Fortin

(Photo: Los Angeles Times)

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