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To Be the Poet

To Be the Poet

Maxine Hong Kingston

ISBN 9780674007918

Publication date: 09/16/2002

"I have almost finished my longbook," Maxine Hong Kingston declares. "Let my life as Poet begin...I won't be a workhorse anymore; I'll be a skylark." To Be the Poet is Kingston's manifesto, the avowal and declaration of a writer who has devoted a good part of her sixty years to writing prose, and who, over the course of this spirited and inspiring book, works out what the rest of her life will be, in poetry. Taking readers along with her, this celebrated writer gathers advice from her gifted contemporaries and from sages, critics, and writers whom she takes as ancestors. She consults her past, her conscience, her time--and puts together a volume at once irreverent and deeply serious, playful and practical, partaking of poetry throughout as it pursues the meaning, the possibility, and the power of the life of the poet.

A manual on inviting poetry, on conjuring the elusive muse, To Be the Poet is also a harvest of poems, from charms recollected out of childhood to bursts of eloquence, wonder, and waggish wit along the way to discovering what it is to be a poet.


  • On the opening page of this slim volume, Kingston declares that after decades of writing acclaimed memoirs and fiction...she has decided to devote herself to writing poetry. This work...explores this new dimension of her life, mostly written in verse. Kingston relays her past, how she looks at herself, and how she works to take on the life of a poet. What results is a multilayered book that is irreverent, serious, and playful but always instructive. She gives her readers the opportunity to see an accomplished artist at work in the creative process--a new one for her. This book should appeal to all who have had the urge to put pen to paper.

    —Ron Ratliff, Library Journal


  • Maxine Hong Kingston is Senior Lecturer Emerita in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley. For her memoirs and fiction, including The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, and Hawaii One Summer, Kingston has earned numerous awards, among them the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Pen West Award for Fiction, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award, and a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the rare title, “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i.”

Book Details

  • 128 pages
  • 0-3/8 x 5-1/2 x 7 inches
  • Harvard University Press