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For Maxine Hong Kingston, Age Is Just Time Going By



The Unstoppables is a series about people whose ambition is undimmed by time. Below, the writer Maxine Hong Kingston explains, in her own words, what continues to motivate her.

In a way, I don’t believe in old age. I hear people say, “this hurts” or “that hurts,” and they attribute that pain to old age. It’s not age. Age is just time going by, and that’s very mysterious.

I don’t think about vanity much. I look in the mirror and if I think, “I look young, that’s good enough.” Instead of wearing lipstick or rouge, I darken my eyebrows. I can express all kinds of things just with my eyebrows.

I do think about retiring, but stories and ideas keep coming. As Phyllis Hoge, a poet and my best friend, used to say, “We won’t die until we’ve finished our work.”

I was born this way. From a very young age I just wanted to be a storyteller or a poet. I didn’t know what I was going to write. I wasn’t even aware at that age that I had nothing to write about.

Sometimes I’ve thought, or had the illusion, that I’ve been this way for two incarnations back. This is my third reincarnation as a writer. John Whalen-Bridge, who is writing my biography, is thinking of calling it “American Bodhisattva.” I don’t go around thinking I’m a bodhisattva, but I suspect that younger women see me in that way, as somebody who could help them, have mercy on them. That’s the impact I’m having on young people. I just play the role of grandma for them.

I’m not nostalgic myself. I don’t like the feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia has something to do with regret, the sadness of “Oh, this time is over.”

I don’t like it when I have that feeling, but I don’t seem to get it very often. I like to go into the new.

“Veterans of War, Veterans (2006), an anthology of writings on survival that Ms. Kingston edited. Credit…Chiron Publications

Current and upcoming projects: Second edition of “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace,” a compilation of storytelling and poetry by wartime survivors, with new contributions by Israelis and Palestinians; revising (“polishing,” in her telling) a diary of the past decade.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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