A Mind as Large as the Universe

Friends and lovers,

This is Mike, your New York-based translation editor, sending springtime greetings and a literary dispatch from across the globe. Gotham’s seasonal change is lilting along in fits and starts. How quickly a weekend of resplendent sunshine gives way to the drab and cold, the gloom and rain. But, regardless of weather, the city percolates with activity as millions of souls revive from the spiritual stupor of the winter months. While I haven’t had the fortune to participate in your Shanghai events (yet), I write with renewed fervor in the afterglow of meeting a most distinguished literary forebear: Maxine.

Yes, none other than the Maxine, that is, Hong Kingston. The Woman Warrior in the flesh, as it were. Last week I attended talks and celebrations two nights in a row to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Maxine’s seminal book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Hosted at NYU, the first night featured a packed audience in Cooper Square, with panelists Hua Hsu, Jenny Zhang, Jess Row, and Pacharee Sudhinaraset, as well as a cake in the likeness of her first edition book cover.

The following night, at Verso Books’ headquarters on the other side of the East River, Maxine presided over another crowded roomful of devotees while fielding questions from novelist Monique Truong. Both events were cosponsored by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, an arts nonprofit and community organization of critical importance, along with a bevy of other academic and publishing outfits.

Not a bad office view from Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

Not a bad office view from Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

Maxine was a vision in flowing white hair, dominating each space with her boldly pacifist ethos and continued refusal, many decades out, to cave to convention. But what stood out most to me was the immense empathy and charm that radiated from her, a woman whose monumental influence in the canon of contemporary American literature seemed at odds with the tiny soft-spoken figure before us. Between anecdotes about getting arrested at an antiwar protest and thrown in a cell with Alice Walker and leading writing workshops for veterans to help them negotiate past trauma, her sincerity and sly candor beguiled us all.

I’m so tickled that I had the chance to not only hear the Notorious M.H.K. speak, but also get my books signed and chat with her in person. And if, for whatever reason, you’re among the few who have not come across her work in a literature class, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Woman Warrior posthaste. I imagine you’ll be glad, like me, to enjoy her writing entirely divorced from a scholarly/academic context. Is it fiction? Is it memoir? Who cares! Womanhood, language, history, and memory intertwine in a dazzling narrative that shuttles the reader back and forth between a mythic past and a present that might be just as illusory and unstable. Maxine’s still got it, after all these years.

Mike & Maxine in twenty-seventeen!

Mike & Maxine in twenty-seventeen!