Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston Biography

Author, Educator, Activist, Journalist, Anti-War Activist (1940–)
Acclaimed author Maxine Hong Kingston has written numerous works that vividly present a tapestry of her Chinese heritage and the experiences of the Asian immigrant community in America.


Maxine Hong Kingston was born on October 27, 1940 in Stockton, California. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Berkeley (where she's currently a Professor Emeritus). In her long career, her writings reflect the cultural experiences of the Asian immigrant community in America. Her first book, The Woman Warrior, won a National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976. Her follow-up China Men won the National Book Award. 

Early Life

First generation Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston was born on October 27, 1940, in Stockton, California. She is one of eight children of Tom, a teacher, who arrived in the United States in 1925 and Ying Lan Hong, a midwife, who emigrated from China in 1940. Two of her siblings who were born in China died before her father could arrange passage for the family to settle in the United States. Kingston attended Edison High School and during this time, her first published work appeared in the Girl Scouts' magazine The American Girl. From there, she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from the University of California, Berkeley. That same year, she married husband Earll Kingston. Before she became a famous writer, she was an educator, working in California and Hawaii.

Career Highlights

Maxine Hong Kingston created a worldwide sensation with her 1976 work The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts and emerged one of the leading contemporary Chinese-American writers. While labeled as nonfiction, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts featured a blending of traditional memoir and myth—and invoked a similar feeling of magical realism found in the works of such authors as Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Readers were enthralled by the book as were critics. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction in 1976.

Maxine Hong Kingston photo via Getty Images

Maxine Hong Kingston, 1977 (Photo: Jack Sotomayor/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

For Maxine Hong Kingston, however, the work was half-finished. She always envisioned The Woman Warrior as the first part of a larger work. The second part, China Men, followed in 1980. It won the National Book Award the following year, and Hong Kingston became a Guggenheim fellow that same year.

In addition to these two masterworks, Maxine Hong Kingston has written two novels: Tripmaster Monkey, His Fake Book (1989) and Hawaii One Summer (1998). More recently she returned to the autobiographical with The Fifth Book of Peace (2003). This work tells the story of Hong Kingston’s experiences in the 1990s—her California home burns to the ground, and in the process her latest novel is destroyed. Readers follow along as she tries to rebuild her life and retell her story. In 2006, she edited a collection of nonfiction pieces from people touched by war in Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace, which were culled from some of Hong Kingston's writing workshops. In 2011, she published I Love a Broad Margin to My Life.

During her distinguished career, Maxine Hong Kingston has received many honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature, the PEN West Award for Fiction, two National Endowment for the Arts Writers Award, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and a National Humanities Medal. In 2013, she received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

She has been married to Earll Kingston since 1962; the couple has one son, Joseph.

Maxine Hong Kingston and Barack Obama photo via White House

President Barack Obama presents the National Medal of Arts to writer Maxine Hong Kingston in a White House ceremony on July 28, 2014. (Photo: Jocelyn Augustino)

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