Cover: To Be the Poet, from Harvard University PressCover: To Be the Poet in HARDCOVER

The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies 2000

To Be the Poet

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Product Details


$21.00 • £16.95 • €19.00

ISBN 9780674007918

Publication Date: 09/16/2002


128 pages

5-1/2 x 7 inches

19 author drawings

The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in American Studies


Maxine Hong Kingston’s To Be the Poet reads like a documentary on the daily life of a writer, and it has the potential to become a classic… Her new book…is not simply about being a writer; it’s also a memoir with suggestions for coping with life… A lifelong writer of prose transforming herself into a poet—becomes the central image of the book, establishing the structure for its collage of reflections and notes… She takes the reader with her as she rededicates herself to poetry… Every writer should have a copy of this book, along with more copies in storage, to pass out to friends and family who look askance at the writing life… [Kingston’s] lyrical prose uses the specifics of one woman’s life to make a universal statement about how writers live and work.—A. Van Jordan, The Washington Post

A suitably brief, lucid and intriguing invitation to the process of poetry, in which [Kingston] shares her own path after she ‘choose the poet’s life’ …Once again, she blazes her own trail.The Honolulu Advertiser

Kingston has written some mighty serious books over the years, and now, at 60, she’s kicking up her heels and enjoying the fun of wordsmithing. To Be the Poet is her ‘manifesto’… Kingston pillages her past and plunders the future, assembling a slim volume that’s deeply observational and disarmingly witty.—Burl Burlingame, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin

A handsome, sub-sized book, To Be the Poet includes drawings by the author and journal jottings of lunches, telephone calls, trips and conversations with friends. It’s fast and interesting, and useful as a blueprint on how to get a poem.—Chris Watson, The Santa Cruz Sentinel

The poems themselves are not only good writing, but a kind of personal prescription for the development of wisdom. Poetry, Kingston said, has become an antidote and companion to the hard work of prose writing. I especially enjoyed how she moves from mundane tasks like selling her house to the loftiness of imagining peace in her poetry. Somehow, in the masterful hands of this writer, these disparate activities become whole. This first book of poetry by the author is also a sort of workbook of instructions for the creative, and I would highly recommend it to other writers and artists as well as those who love words.—Ann-Marie Stillion, Northwest Asian Weekly

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

Awards & Accolades

  • 2008 Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, National Book Foundation
  • Maxine Hong Kingston Is a 1997 National Humanities Medal Winner
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