Back Maxine Hong Kingston, “A Sea Worry”

Maxine Hong Kingston (b. 1940)
From Maxine Hong Kingston: The Woman Warrior, China Men, Tripmaster Monkey, Other Writings

Bodysurfers at Sandy Beach, 2018. Still from a video by Kala‘i Ellis for Kaha Nalu Hawaii.

Forty-four years ago, in the summer of 1978, the New York Times asked Maxine Hong Kingston—whose debut book, The Woman Warrior (1976), had become a publishing phenomenon—to write the Hers column that appeared in the newspaper’s Home section every Thursday. They were especially keen on her experiences in Hawai‘i, where she had lived with her husband, Earll, and their son for ten years.

She was hesitant about the subject matter. “I could hear the Hawaiians: ‘You have taken our land. Don’t take our stories.’” So she decided that her columns would be about the experience of living in Hawai‘i as an “outsider”; she would write “about myself and my family, about homesickness for California, and my upcoming high school reunion, about washing the dishes, teaching school, reading. I would publish these humble pieces in New York, and bypass Hawai‘i. I meant to honor kapu [taboo], not touch kapu things at all.”

And yet, she adds, the Spirit of Hawai‘i “made her way into these essays.”

“A Sea Worry,” the last column she wrote for the Times that summer, is about Kingston’s 15-year-old son and his obsession with bodysurfing. Earll, an actor, was auditioning for theater productions in New York the following year, and Maxine was asked if they planned to move back to the mainland. “My son likes Hawaii very much. It’s his home,” she responded. “Even though Earll and I don’t have Hawaiian blood, I can see that Joseph is a Hawaiian person. He’s made up his mind that’s where he wants to live so we’ll probably remain there until he graduates from high school.” Readers of her essay can see how the Spirit of Hawai‘i “made her way” into her son.

Read “A Sea Worry” by Maxine Hong Kingston

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