Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is a modern classic and one of the most frequently taught memoirs. And for good reason. Kingston recounts memories from her early childhood as a first generation, Chinese American girl growing up in San Francisco, California blending her own experiences with family lore/rumors, Chinese folktale and myth, and Kingston’s own unique imagination.
In a class, you can use the full text or chapters. As the subtitle suggests—memoirs—the five chapters that compose the book can be seen as short, individual, but connected memoirs. For the purposes of a translingual class, chapters “No Name Woman,” “Shaman,” and “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe” would be particularly useful.
Kingston’s prose are like no other and it helps to be immersed in the essays. But, you can get a taste of her writing in these two short excerpts.
From “No Name Woman”: Kingston reflects on her family’s secret about an aunt who committed suicide
“‘Don’t tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She was never born.’ I have believed that sex was unspeakable and words so strong and fathers so frail that ‘aunt’ would do my father mysterious harm. I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here. But there is more to this silence: they want me to participate in her punishment. And I have.”
From “A Song for the Barbarian Reed Pipe”: Kingston considers the difficulty of living and speaking as a Chinese American girl
“We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans. Once a year the teachers referred my sister and me to speech therapy, but our voices would straighten out, unpredictably normal, for the therapists. Some of us gave up, shook our heads, and said nothing, not one word. Some of us could not even shake our heads. At times shaking my head no is more self-assertion than I can manage. Most of us eventually found some voice, however faltering.”
Kingston’s memoir can be paired with interviews with Kingston to bring in aural elements, allowing students to literally hear her voice. In 2011, Kingston was the Honoree of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference held at Montgomery College, Rockville campus. The interview is conducted by Josephine Reed, host of On The Margin on WPFW FM radio and Writers on Writing on Sirius Satellite Radio. Kingston discusses her personal experiences and her exigence as a writer.
There are also many sourcebooks about the teaching of The Woman Warrior that you can draw on, such as Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior: A Casebook edited by Sau-ling Cynthia Wong and Approaches to Teaching Kingston’s the Woman Warrior edited by
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Vintage, Reissue edition, 1986.