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National Book Foundation agrees, Maxine Hong Kingston a winner

September 10, 2008 |  5:58 pm

Maxinehongkingston

Maxine Hong Kingston, author of "The Woman Warrior," "China Men," "Tripmaster Monkey" and others, will receive the 2008 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the National Book Foundation announced today.

We agree — Kingston rocks. Earlier this year, the L.A. Times gave her the Kirsch Award, which honors a living author with a substantial connection to the American West whose contribution to American letters deserves special recognition. She was the award's 28th recipient.

Kingston lives in Oakland with her husband, Earl, where she is a senior lecturer emerita at the UC Berkeley and directs the Veterans Writing Group project.The National Book Foundation writes, "Kingston has employed a range of literary styles and stories in her work to create a startling new approach to immigrant memoir and fiction and influence two generations of American writers."

In 2003, Kingston was interviewed at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., on her approach to "immigrant memoir":

Maxine Hong Kingston: The way that I wrote when my mother and father were both alive was very different than the way I write now. In "Woman Warrior" and "China Men," I wrote their stories in such a way that I protected them from being deported. Both of them were illegal aliens, and I wrote about their coming from China to Cuba to America. I made up a new genre that is a mix of reality and imagination, and I did that because I was thinking that if immigration authorities read my books they could not find evidence to deport my parents. Now that they are dead, I am very clear about what is fiction and what is nonfiction, and I draw the boundaries very strictly. I am able to say that they were illegals and they were stowaways and he won her a visa at the gambling table. Everything they did was illegal! And they always told me, "Don't tell these things!" So I did tell, but I did it in a new and strange kind of way.

Now that they are gone, I mean to just go back and retell everything and sort it out and say, This is real. This is not real.

Powells: The Cultural Studies people are going to kill you if you do that!

Maxine Hong Kingston: I know. Oh, God, I know!

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

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