Music Feature

Maxine Hong Kingston Visits The Free Library of Philadelphia

by Molly Sprayregen

Maxine Hong Kingston’s flowing white hair swallows up her round, wrinkled face. At the Free Library of Philadelphia, she stands on a raised wooden block so that she won’t have to stand on her tiptoes to reach the microphone. “I look like a tortoise in a curly white wig” she reads from her new memoir, I Love a Broad Margin to My Life.

Her eyes, covered by tiny spectacles, burst out from beneath her tresses. They have enough power to convey a whole talk story in one glance. Talk stories are traditional Chinese stories passed down orally from generation to generation. Kingston fashions pieces of her books in talk story form and implements certain aspects of ones she heard in her childhood. She is perhaps best known for writing Woman Warrior, a half-true and half-fictional memoir of Kingston’s experiences growing up as a Chinese-American.

 Woman Warrior was released over twenty years ago, and since then she has written many other books, but today she is here to speak on I Love a Broad Margin to My Life, the story of her desire to understand life at 65. “I was beginning to worry about my mortality,” she says.

 The book is written in poem form, and Kingston reads it with every ounce of emotion she can muster up on this cold, February night. Her hands move back and forth, her voice gracefully moves up and down, and she ends each section she reads with an endearing little smirk at the audience.

 Later, Kingston laments about the burden she used to bear, unintentionally acting as a representation of all Chinese-American writers. Now, she says, “there are so many of us and we all write so differently.” Now, her words get to represent her.

 She speaks about working with war veterans in writer’s workshops; she speaks about her son and reads an excerpt on his love for surfing from Hawai’i One Summer. She was born in the year of the dragon, she tells us, and the Chinese identify with the animal representing their year.

 “I am a dragon!” She proudly declares. 

Kingston ends her memoir with seven reasons to keep going. “As long as I, any writer, have things to write,” she says, “I keep living.” 

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