Interview between Maxine Hong Kingston and Sneja Gunew

By Gunew, Sneja | Hecate, November 3, 1990 | Go to article overview

Interview between Maxine Hong Kingston and Sneja Gunew


Gunew, Sneja, Hecate


In an article responding to the reception of her first book, The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston offered the following plea:

I am an American writer, who, like other American writers, wants to write the great American novel. The Woman Warrior is an American book. Yet many reviewers do not see the American-ness of it, nor the fact of my own American-ness.(1)

Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese-American writer who uses mythic figures and stories as part of an attempt to change the ways in which so-called minority or ethnic writings are traditionally received in the U.S. and elsewhere. The eldest of six children, the author was born in San Francisco of a Chinese immigrant family. Her parents ran a laundry and tried to maintain traditional Chinese ways. Maxine Hong Kingston was educated at the University of California, Berkeley, a centre for American radicalism in the sixties, and became a peace activist during the turbulent years of the Vietnam war. She has been a teacher but now concentrates on her writing, though the recent massacre in Tien-an-men Square has led to her involvement in the Foundation for Chinese Democracy, designed to support Chinese students throughout the world.

To promote the publication of her third book, Tripmaster Monkey, Maxine Hong Kingston was a guest at both the Sydney Carnivale Writers' Festival and Melbourne Spoleto Writers' Week in 1989. Sneja Gunew interviewed her in relation to her sense of herself as an American multicultural writer and with particular focus on her first novel, The Woman Warrior.

SG: Maxine, in relation to your first novel, The Woman Warrior, just how American is it? When I first set this as a text in about 1980 I made the fundamental mistake of putting it almost exclusively in the context of Chinese culture and that is how students were asked to respond to it. It was offered as a book that looked back to Chinese culture and it was seen very much as the narrator in exile. Now of course I'm much more aware of the fact that, quite rightly, you talk about it as being a Chinese-American book and indeed that it's a very American book.

MHK: I do feel that I work in an American tradition. There's an American mainstream literary creation from the beginning which tried to distinguish an American language and literature and culture from the British one and, in doing that, American writers have experimented with writing dialect. Mark Twain tried to set down in writing the 38 Mississippi River dialects, and we had Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who are I guess my literary great grandfathers. Their stated aim was to find the common American speech and put it into poetry, to try to find the syntax of American speech and to find the American voice -- a new language. So I think that as I write about Chinese-American people and our lives and how we speak, I had to invent another American language in another one of its stages, in that sense of creating a new English language. I see myself as working very much in a mainstream tradition.

SG: That explains the American part of it, and that's understandable as a balance to the manner in which readers first saw it as a Chinese book, as exotic in all sorts of stereotypic and wrong headed ways, but what now do you see as the Chinese part of it, the Chinese-American aspect?

MHK: Well I think it's very curious that I seem to have placed myself in two canons of literature and I do feel that I am in the canon of American literature. Very officially, I mean I'm on some of the lists of the University great books and at the same time, without my having consciously aimed for it, I've learned that the Chinese in China see me working in Chinese traditions even though I write in English and the book has been translated into Chinese. They perceive my writing as continuing the myths, that I show what has become of mythic spirits and heroes as they come into modern times. Also they have detected stylistic influences. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Interview between Maxine Hong Kingston and Sneja Gunew
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.