“No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston (1975)

June 24, 2011 | Posted in Essays in America | Tags: , , ,

Maxine Hong Kingston was born in Stockton, California on October 27, 1940
to first generation Chinese immigrant parents. In 1962, Kingston graduated with a degree in English from UC Berkeley. She married her husband Earl Kingston, an actor, the same year. Together they have one son, Joseph. Her first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, was published in 1976. It won the 1976 National Book Critics Circle award and Time magazine designated it one of the top ten nonfiction books of the 1970s. Her second book, China Men, is a companion sequel to The Woman Warrior that tells stories from the male perspective. China Men won the 1981 National Book Award. Some of her other publications include: Hawai’i One Summer (essays) 1987, Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (novel) 1988, To Be the Poet (lectures and poems) 2002, The Fifth Book of Peace (novel) 2003.

Essay’s Form

“No Name Woman” tells the feely imagined story of Kingston’s aunt whose existence was erased from the familial memory after she gave birth to a child that was not her husband’s.

Kingston moves between the imagined and the real in “No Name Woman.” Her style is what Sanford Pinsker calls “a species of magical realism.” Marjorie Lightfoot argues that Kingston employs a “myth/memory/present-moment fragmentation [that] . . . forces the reader to attempt to integrate the material into a meaningful whole.” As the essay shifts between fantasy and reality, it also shifts in tense and tone.

Cover of the January 1975 issue of Viva: The International Magazine for Women in which the essay first appeared.

Essay’s Immediate Context

“No Name Woman” tells the freely imagined story of Kingston’s aunt whose existence was erased from the familial memory after she gave birth to a child that was not her husband’s.

Kingston moves between the imagined and the real in “No Name Woman.” Her style is what Sanford Pinsker calls “a species of magical realism.” Marjorie Lightfoot argues that Kingston employs a “myth/memory/present-moment fragmentation [that] . . . forces the reader to attempt to integrate the material into a meaningful whole.” As the essay shifts between fantasy and reality, it also shifts in tense and tone.

Subsequent Appearances

“No Name Woman” appeared under the title, “The Death of Precious Only Daughter: All about Adultery and the Fate of Girl Babies in China” in the January 1975 issue of Viva, a soft-core pornographic magazine for heterosexual women that was in print for six years (1973–1979). Kathy Keeton, the wife of Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, edited the magazine. Viva was created in response to female readers of Penthouse who wrote letters asking that the editors, “Publish a magazine like Penthouse for us.” According to Keeton, “Viva appeals not to the feminist or the traditional housewife but to that curious mix. . . the new woman . . . The woman who is sexually liberated but does not hate men; the woman who wants to live independently, but with her man.”

The alternate title used in Viva misrepresents the essay as one about a scandalous and tragic affair when the “no name aunt” is ultimately a victim of extreme sexism and violence.

Read “No Name Woman.”

Bibliography

“A conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston and Gish Jen.”sampan.org. Sampan. Web. 11 March, 2011.

“Bill Moyer’s Journal.” PBS.com. Public Broadcasting Station. Web. 25 Feb. 2007.

Kingston Hong, Maxine. “The Death of Precious Only Daughter: All about Adultery and the Fate of Girl Babies in China.” Viva: The International Magazine for Women Jan. 1975, Vol.2 No. 4: 76–102. print.

_____. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976. Print.

Maxine Hong Kingston. UNCP.edu.

Morante, Linda. “From Silence to Song: The Triumph of Maxine Hong Kingston.” A Journal of Women Studies Vol. 9, No. 2 (1987): pp. 78–82. Print.

Napikoski, Linda. “The Woman Warrior: Feminist Cultural Identity Memoir.” womenshistory.about.com. About.com. Web. n.d.

Outka, Paul. “Publish or Perish: Food, Hunger, and Self-Construction in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior.” Contemporary Literature Vol. 38, No. 3 (1997): pp. 447–482. Print.

Photo of Maxine Hong Kingston. latimesblogs.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Web. April, 2008.

Ulin, David, L. Interview with Maxine Hong Kingston. latimesblogs.latimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Web. 6, Feb. 2011.

“Women’s History, Maxine Hong Kingston.” gale.cengage.com. Gale Cengage Learning. Web. 8 Oct. 2008.

Zhang, Ya-Jie. “A Chinese Woman’s Response to Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior.Varieties of Ethnic Criticism Vol. 13, No ¾ (1986): pp. 103–107. Print.

Text and images: Angela Meredith