An Unofficial International Writing Community

Why would I, a middle-aged, white Australian woman, consider applying for City University of Hong Kong’s low-residency MFA program?

I was nearing completion of my first book and planned to return to the red-dirt mining town of my childhood to find two former friends, both Aboriginal, both former residents of Kurrawang Mission. I suspected by now that they were members of the Stolen Generations—Aboriginal people removed from their families as children—and I wanted to tell their stories and examine my responsibilities as a white settler descendant. Trouble was I had no idea how to write about race.

Where better to learn than in a dynamic new MFA program, brainchild of Xu Xi, with an Asia-Pacific focus?

So what did I actually get from the program? I’d signed up to produce writing that could make a difference. In workshops and through distance mentoring, my teachers honed my craft and guided me through the final draft of my first book (The Boy Who Loved Apples). Over subsequent semesters, they taught me to interrogate my biases and gave me the language to write about race. I graduated with a complete manuscript. After reviewing it, award-winning Australian writer Melissa Lucashenko, of Goorie (Aboriginal) and European heritage, wrote that my memoir “with luck, could change many Australian minds.”

I’d expected great teaching, after all my teachers included accomplished writers like Luis Francia, Justin Hill, Ravi Shankar, Marilyn Chin, Xu Xi, Robin Hemley and Suzanne Paola. (And who could forget Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz’s inspirational two hour lecture?)

What I hadn’t expected was membership of an unofficial international writing community. Through their writing, my talented co-students introduced me to other rhythms and sounds, and opened my eyes to the many different Englishes in this part of the world. Three years post-graduation, I’m in regular contact with many of those writers.

Hong Kong poet Nicholas Wong, whose searing second collection Crevasse was recently published, is one of them.

Nicholas writes, “I am forever indebted to the wonderful teachers who worked with me with a belief that, a bilingual speaker born in Hong Kong, could make a difference to the literary scene of the city and the world.”

Sreedhevi Iyer is another. Sreedhevi is an Australian passport holder, born in Malaysia of Indian heritage, currently living in Hong Kong, a hyphenated identity, as Nicholas puts it. She writes, “The best thing I obtained from this program was a sense of artistic liberation. I would pigeon-hole myself to be what others thought I needed to be. This MFA broke a glass ceiling. I could, for the first time in my life, write the way I *really* wanted to.”

So why would the University close our MFA? Is it a politically motivated decision or do they not realise the program’s potential? In Sreedhevi’s words, “It is a gift the world should continue to have.” City University needs to rethink its decision and support our vision of a creative and cohesive future.

Amanda Webster

webster-amandaAmanda Webster graduated from the University of WA as a doctor long before undertaking the MFA in Creative Writing low residency program at City University of Hong Kong. THE BOY WHO LOVED APPLES is published by Text.