May 12 update: 61 authors protest closure of City University of Hong Kong’s Creative Writing Programme.
On April 27,2015 the students and faculty of City University of Hong Kong MFA Program received news that it has been “discontinued”. The CityU Senate’s decision was made without consulting the program director, Ms. Xu Xi, a prominent Hong Kong based writer with ties to New York City, and its rationale for closure appears to lack any substance. This is related to a global trend in which the Liberal Arts and Humanities are becoming more and more marginalized, devalued, and underfunded in an era of unprecedented wealth creation. CityU faculty, alumni, and students are currently protesting this decision, petitioning the Senate and Governance to revoke its decision. Coincidentally, several students currently enrolled in the program recently published in a special edition of Drunken Boat poetry and prose in support of the Occupy Hong Kong Protests of 2014. While there is no evidence to support that the Senate’s decision was influenced by this, the coincidence should not be casually dismissed. If the Senate has its way, then Hong Kong—and the literary world—will lose an MFA program, the first of its kind in Asia, unique for its international diversity with faculty and students from over 20 countries, representing literary traditions from East and South Asia, the Americas, and Europe.
For Immediate Release by Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine:
April 29, 2015: 25 internationally recognized authors from around the world, including US Pulitzer Prize winners Junot Díaz, Rae Armantrout, and Robert Olen Butler, have signed a letter to the President, Provost, and Chairman of the Council of the City University of Hong Kong, protesting the university’s decision to close its highly successful and admired MFA Programme in Creative Writing.
The MFA Programme, established only five years ago by Hong Kong-based novelist Xu Xi, has brought many distinguished writers (including the signers of the letter) to the university’s Kowloon Tong campus, and has already resulted in six books and hundreds of published poems, essays, and short stories by MFA graduates and current students.
The only reason given for the closure (which was announced, with no previous discussion, by the acting chair of the Department of English on 27 April) was that “the programme has only been able to enroll a small number of students every year.” However, the current size of the program (approximately 40 students) is well within the model proposed by Xu Xi when the university established the program in 2010. The program is financially self-sustaining as of 2015.
In their open letter protesting the university’s decision, the writers state: “The CityU MFA Programme is the first truly global creative writing program anywhere in the world. It has attracted students from 20 different countries, and a writing faculty that represents literary traditions of Asia, the Americas, and Europe…In the future, we feel that the MFA Programme promises to make CityU a widely recognized centre of global literary and cultural dialogue, which will in turn contribute to Hong Kong’s growing importance as a international centre of arts and culture.”
Current students and alumnae of the MFA Programme have reacted with shock and disbelief to the news of the programme’s closure. Many of them have taken to social media, noting that the MFA Programme offered them the only opportunity to pursue a degree in creative writing without relocating to the US or UK, that it has given them an opportunity to explore their roots or connections to Asia in a welcoming environment, and that it provides a rare haven in Hong Kong for free, imaginative expression. A petition from current and former students and supporters will be delivered to the university administration within days; other protest measures are under discussion.
Jess Row, MFA Programme faculty: firstname.lastname@example.org (USA) +1 718 490 4203
Xu Xi, MFA Programme leader: email@example.com (Hong Kong) +852 9175 2839
Nicholas Wong, MFA graduate: firstname.lastname@example.org (HK) +852 9300 9636
Keane Shum, MFA graduate: email@example.com (HK) +852 9022 2537