Thursday, August 7, 2014

Outlaw Knot-maker

Maxine Hong Kingston receives the National Medal of Arts from President Obama.July 28, 2014.
Maxine Hong Kingston!

In 1989, she was commencement speaker at the little college in the orange groves where Rebel Girl has taught these past 22 years. That was before Rebel Girl's time, but it was the kind of thing that made her eager to join the college. Needless to say, Kingston wouldn't be "approved" or deemed "acceptable" by the people who make the decisions at the college these days.  Reb has been in meetings where nominees, similar to Kingston, are dismissed as "too political" or "not appropriate" or, get this "too professorial." Rebel Girl doesn't know which is worse.

Another colleague recalls that commencement (May 19, 1989) and how she had brought along her Vintage Books 1977 edition of Kingston's The Woman Warrior, one that she had read so often. She remembers that the sun had set when she was finally able to talk to Kingston, to thank her, and ask that she autograph the book. She remembers her face (see that same face shining above!) Kingston wrote, "To______ in sisterhood."

"Sisterhood!" What a word, then and now.

Rebel Girl met Kingston once, at a party on Russian Hill in San Francisco, at the home of her UC Irvine professor Oakley Hall. It was New Year's - 2004, 2005 perhaps? One of the rare years she did not go to Mexico. Her little guy was toddling around the party, being the happy curious toddler he was. You know how it is at parties when you bring your kid - sometimes people don't know what to do or say. Not Kingston. Rebel Girl remembers she was curious, warm, smart. She did not have to be. She just was. For what it is worth, Kingston remembered the little college in the orange groves with fondness.

The other night, Rebel Girl sat in a small community theatre in Costa Mesa while that same little kid (now 12!) rehearsed Ragtime, singing that anthem "Wheels of a Dream" ("And when he is old enough, I will show him America..."). She sat in the back row, prepping for Fall's classes - first up, Maxine Hong Kingston's essay "Tongue-Tied"- "If I lived in China I would have been an outlaw knot-maker."

Life. Life!

Kingston's part in the ceremony begins around 27 minutes, 12 seconds.



Anonymous said...

It's great that she was our commencement speaker. Do you think she would come back?

Anonymous said...

I think the point of this piece is that she would not be asked to speak at IVC anymore.

Traitor? Idiot? Both?