Skip to content

A ‘transformative’ literary mind

In explaining her deci­sion to write her recently com­pleted 230-​​page memoir, “I Love a Broad Margin to My Life,” in free verse, Maxine Hong Kingston said, “I returned to my way of writing as a child.”

Speaking before more than 50 fac­ulty and stu­dents in the Cabral Center last Thursday for the inau­gural address in the Encoun­tering the Human­i­ties lec­ture series, the acclaimed author added, “I was born speaking poems and with talk sto­ries.“

Kingston spent the majority of the evening reading pas­sages from “Broad Margin” and “The Woman War­rior: Mem­oirs of a Girl­hood Among Ghosts,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1976.

“Broad Margin” was filled with post-​​it notes anno­tating changes that Kingston intends to make to the memoir’s paper­back edi­tion. “Don’t worry,” she joked. “I’m not going to read to you from all these notes.”

The North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Human­i­ties Center spon­sored the event. Georges Van Den Abbeele, dean of the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, praised Kingston’s body of work. “She is the author of an entire series of trans­for­ma­tive books and has won almost every lit­erary award that I can think of,” he said.

Kingston, who turns 71 on Thursday, was born in Stockton, Calif., to first-​​generation Chi­nese immi­grants. Her mother, who lived to be 100, is a pop­ular figure in her writing.

The author gave the audi­ence a window into her mother’s longevity: As she put it, “She ped­aled a bike and hammer-​​curled pink bar­bells.”

Kingston won’t hes­i­tate to pon­tif­i­cate on the mundane—or the mon­u­mental.  “I am given to writing what­ever hap­pens that day,” she said. “It could be a small event or a large event, but both are impor­tant.”

Kingston owes her writing style to her favorite authors, including Walt Whitman, Vir­ginia Wolf and Norman Mailer, of whom she remarked, “He is really tough, but he gets very lyrical.”

Her writing is sprin­kled with philo­soph­ical insight. Our actions, Kingston noted in “Broad Margin,” have unfore­seen con­se­quences that may play out 1,000 years down the road.

“An act of love I do this morning,” she told to the audi­ence, “saves a life on a future bat­tle­field.”

Kingston’s tales of living as a Chi­nese Amer­ican in the United States, which she chron­i­cled in the 1981 National Book Award-​​winning novel “China Men,” are often viewed as deeply per­sonal accounts.

But the author doesn’t nec­es­sarily feel the same way. “If I can write deep down about myself,” Kingston explained, “then that is every­body else.”

– by Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish