Maxine Hong Kingston, influential writer and an alumna and longtime lecturer at UC Berkeley, received the 2013 National Medal of Arts today (Monday, July 28) in a White House ceremony.
Best known for her books The Woman Warrior and China Men, Kingston’s “novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender, and race,” according to a White House statement.
National Medal of Arts winner Maxine Hong Kingston accepts congratulations from President Obama at the White House.
Also among those winning medals from the National Endowment for the Arts were architects Billie Tsien and her partner Tod Williams, who designed UC Berkeley’s acclaimed C.V. Starr East Asian Library, which opened in 2008.
Kingston, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, grew up in Stockton and came to Berkeley to study engineering. But she fell in love with reading, writing and the English language and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1962.
At the time of her hiring as a creative writing lecturer in the English Department in 1990, Woman Warrior had become “the book by a living author most widely taught in American universities and colleges,” said Robert Hass, professor of English, poet, author and former U.S. poet laureate.
Kingston herself was quoted as saying: “It’s the most wonderful feeling to have a lifetime alma mater. I wouldn’t teach at any other school.”
Upon accepting the 1997 National Humanities Medal from President Clinton, she said, “Usually my awards are for my writing. I’d like to think this is for being a human being.”
Kingston’s China Men won the 1981 American Book Award, and Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book earned the 1989 PEN West award in fiction. She retired from active teaching at Berkeley in 2003.
Architects Tsien and Williams were honored for their contributions to architecture and arts education, according to the White House.
“Whether public or private, their deliberate and inspired designs have a profound effect on the lives of those who interact with them, and their teaching and spirit of service have inspired young people to pursue their passions.”