25 Distinguished Authors Protest
April 29, 2015: TWENTY-FIVE internationally recognised 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 enrol 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 recognised 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.
The authors who signed the letter are: Jess Row (USA), Tabish Khair (India/Denmark), Nami Mun (USA), Evan Fallenberg (Israel), Robin Hemley (Singapore), Jose Dalisay (Phillipines), Suzanna Paola (USA), Shawn Wong (USA), Marilyn Chin (USA), Luis Francia (USA), James Scudamore (UK), Ravi Shankar (USA), Rae Armantrout (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA), Tina Chang (USA), Bob Shacochis (Pulitzer Prize finalist, USA), Junot Díaz (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA), Robert Olen Butler (Pulitzer Prize winner, USA),Ira Sukrungruang (USA), Sybil Baker (USA), Sharmistha Mohanty (India), Madeleine Thien (Canada), Chang-rae Lee (USA), Richard Blanco (US Inaugural Poet, 2012, USA), Richard Jackson (USA), Rawi Hage (Canada).
For more information, contact
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