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A Broad Margin to Life: 55+ Years oF
Art and Friendship

Maxine Hong Kingston, Earll Kingston & Judith Foosaner in Conversation with
Naomi Newman

story by Charli Depner, photos by Nancy Rubin

The Ashby Village Arts & Culture Series provides a unique dimension to Village life by recognizing and sharing the extraordinary talents of our members. In the latest event, on June 11 at the Berkeley City Club, internationally acclaimed artists, Village members, and long-time friends shared insights drawn from the intersection of creativity and relationship.  They spoke in conversation with each other, the audience, and interviewer Naomi Newman, founder of Traveling Jewish Theater.


Earll Kingston, known for his distinguished career on stage and screen, related stories from his beginnings as a Berkley high school teacher to groundbreaking writing and meditation retreats for victims of trauma.  Judith Foosaner, a visual artist and inspiring teacher at the California College of Arts and Crafts, presented images that explore  possibilities of color and line.  Maxine Hong Kingston, celebrated author of numerous award-winning books, read from work she began at age 65, I Love a Broad Margin To My Life. The book’s title is a quotation from Thoreau that is posted over her desk.  Margins, she explained, refer to boundaries, borders.  The conversation often turned to the changing boarders that define spaces on the map of a life and how forces of art, friendship, and compassion shape them.


“Art is not a career.  It is a life,” Judith Foosaner declared.  And so, their friendship, dating back to college days at Berkeley in the 60s, had sustained the three friends on personal and creative levels. “We were a strong alliance,” she remembered.  “We were learning a lot, but also learning from each other.” Maxine Hong Kingston added, “As an artist, I wanted to make some mark on the world. We supported each other to keep our vision alive.”  Earll Kingston summed it up emphatically. “They are my people.”  Each recalled times when they helped each other get through dry spots, recognizing that it takes time to get to a deeper place. As Maxine Hong Kingston put it, “They helped me discover what my new work would be.” And Earll Kingston added, “Friends help you get where you are trying to be.”


Still, each had unique things to say about their creative process.  According to Judith Foosaner, “Drawing is a possibility, an explosion of truth that leads out.  What appears comes from another place, I enter a new reality.  My drawing is from this other place.”  At 65, Maxine Hong Kingston took a wide margin in her own life to write in a way that made sense to her at that time in her life, removing her from the constraints of deadlines, and giving herself the space to explore a new creative form.


As artists, the trio found both challenges and freedom in aging. “You can’t forget the body, Earll Kingston insisted. “The joy of moving is a wonder. It could be as small as a gesture. The compensation of growing older is that I know so much more now.” Judith Foosaner added, “You have a huge file in your head, based on what you have learned over your life.  It is easier to get up to speed.” For Maxine Hong Kingston, aging has inspired new artistic direction, “At my 65th birthday, I thought about coming to the end of my life and what I wanted to do with the rest of it. Today, at 76, I am still experimenting, exploring more than I ever have.”


Each found an interface between art and working to improve the lives of others. Judith Foosaner devoted many years to teaching and mentoring. For the past 25 years, Earll Kingston and Maxine Hong Kingston have dedicated their creative talents to meditation and writing retreats for veterans. The retreats create community among participants through sharing and writing their stories. Relationships are forged through continued meetings over time.


This remarkable 55-year friendship has nurtured resilience, enabling life-long creative contributions to progress and change. Judith Foosaner observed, “Thinking back to our days at Berkeley, there was so much uncertainty.  What would the future hold for us? For our country?  If I could have seen ahead to us sitting here today, I would have thought,  ‘Well it is going to be better.”  Faced with the challenges of current events, Maxine Hong Kingston urged the audience not be discouraged, “We work for the long term.”


This is the third event in the Ashby Village Arts & Culture Series. “At Ashby Village, we’re proud and fortunate to have both a rich reservoir of talent and a community that’s passionate about art, culture, and current affairs,” said Marcia Freedman, co-chair of the Village Arts & Culture Series, who works together with co-chair Rochelle Lefkowitz and members Irene Marcos, Betty Webster, and Roberta Pressman. 


Thanks go out to those who contributed to the success of this event: Tony Paulley, videographer; Steve Tobey, volunteer; Rachel Kahn-Hut, volunteer; Veronika Fukson, Kristina Holland, Alison Colgan, Joan Cole, Outreach Team.


The next Arts & Culture event, “Understanding North Korea: A Conversation with Philip Yun", is on Sun 10/15/17 at 3-5 PM at Ashby Village, 1821 Catalina Ave., Berkeley.  Yun, ED and COO of the Ploughshares Fund, is former U.S. State Department Senior Advisor for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who managed negotiations with North Korea under President Clinton and is co-editor of North Korea and Beyond (2006).



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Maxine and Earll
Maxine and Earll Kingston

Audience at A and C for Kingstons and Foosaner
Attentive Audience at the Berkeley City Club