Ken McCullough: The engaging personality and inspirational stories of Wang Ping

November 8, 2018 GMT

Wang Ping and I both arrived in Minnesota about 20 years ago and I’ve been following her career ever since then, although our paths have crossed only occasionally.

She’s been to Winona before, but this time we’ve invited her to be part of the Great River Writes Series. When we were looking for an author, preferably a woman representing a minority, who had written a book about “The River,” Ping’s memoir came to my mind immediately. She is a great writer and reader. She will read from her new work at the Winona Public Library on Saturday, Nov. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The memoir is titled “Life of Miracles along the Yangtze and Mississippi,” chronicling her journeys between the rivers of China and Tibet, and the Mississippi and its tributaries here in the U.S.

Her observations about the people she’s met and the places she’s seen are keen and enlightening. And she’s such an engaging person that she’s able to get wonderful interviews out of the most unlikely people. This work is documentation of her Kinship of Rivers project.

After her presentation she will help us make prayer flags that will ultimately be carried to the Yangtze, to Tibet and Mt. Everest. She’s done this in cities, small towns and even places like the recent encampment at Standing Rock. Kinship of Rivers is about raising consciousness of our precious water and our rivers, and of each other.

I first knew Ping as a poet, but since then she’s published a book of short stories, a novel, co-authored a book of poetry translations, three volumes of poetry and a scholarly work on foot-binding. She’s won many awards and fellowships for her work. She’s also established herself as a performance artist — as a singer, dancer, painter, photographer and filmmaker.

Here’s the way she does things: she lives near the Mississippi in St. Paul, and, out of admiration for the river she’s taken up rowing as a hobby so she can spend more time with the river. She wanted to know more about traditional Chinese medicine so she earned a certificate in that field. She was interested in flamenco dancing and recently performed as a solo flamenco dancer.

This attitude has been with her from the beginning. She went to the Chinese countryside at 14 during the cultural revolution to be a farm laborer but eventually graduated from Beijing University with a degree in English Literature, even though she’d had only a grade school education. After that she moved to NYC where she earned an MA in English Literature from Long Island University and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from NYU. She’s been teaching at Macalester since 1999. On top of that, she’s raised two sons.

She is an inspiration wherever she goes and a great practitioner of giving back. She is bold, irrepressible, and honest as a person, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Come to the library on Nov. 10 — you’ll learn a lot and you’ll be entertained.