Aaron's Reviews > Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston

Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston by Paul Skenazy
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's review
Dec 14, 13

bookshelves: life-story, general, anthology, writing
Read in April, 2013

A few years back I saw Maxine Hong Kingston read passages from several of her writings. I was surprised what a small woman she is, and what a small, gentle voice she has. When I read The Woman Warrior years before, I pictured her as a lion. I next started reading Conversations and made it about halfway through, reading the voice of the lion. I finished the book after meeting her, reading the voice of the gentle woman. I suppose they are the same, but it did affect my experience of the book.

I don't read too many anthologies, especially of interviews. Conversations was interesting to me, both for her stories, and to see the role of the writer in telling the story. The interviews take place over about 15 years by many journalist from many publications in many cities. Some interviewers focus on her as a person, some on her work, some on her work as a expression of her personal experience. Different interviewers have different interests (and some of them, it seemed, agendas). Did you write this as a feminist? Did you write this as a Chinese-American? Did you write this as a first generation immigrant? I came across her work, by accident, so many, many years after all this, so it was a bit like a time capsule for all the questions she raised and how people struggled to find a fitting box, a label, a designated shelf for her work. You also get glimpses into what she's thinking and what she's concerned with, what she chooses to answer, and how that evolved over the years. Hmmm, she seemed defensive the last time someone asked about that, but she's found a new framework.

Beyond just the "fishing" questions, a lot of the same ground is covered, just as a formality or as basic journalism. What have you been doing since your last book? What's happening in your next book? How have you responded to criticisms of this and that? Where are you living now? Because these interviews span a long stretch of her career you get to see all the everyday stuff happening in the background. She's living in San Francisco - oh, this was before she lost her house in the fire. Now she's in Hawaii. Oh, her son is grown now and didn't like that her first book referred to him as her "small" son. Oh, now she's talking about some writing game they play in Australia.

The interviews themselves are a mixed bag, so some of it is a little frustrating. But she's always interesting to read. Whether you're a fan of her writing or just curious, it's worth a read.
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