A campaign has been launched to protest the City University of Hong Kong’s decision to close its acclaimed MFA Programme in Creative Writing.
Over two dozen 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 university decrying the sudden decision. The only reason given for the closure was that “the programme has only been able to enrol a small number of students every year.”
The MFA Programme, established only five years ago by Hong Kong-based novelist Xu Xi, has brought distinguished writers (including letter’s signatories) 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.
A letter to City University of HK from 25 authors protesting the closure of its creative writing programme. pic.twitter.com/sMQE3oHqp7
— Tom Grundy (@tomgrundy) April 30, 2015
Despite the university’s assertion that few are interested in the course, the current size of the programme (approximately 40 students) is within the model proposed by Xu Xi when the programme was established in 2010. The course is financially self-sustaining as of 2015, according to campaigners.
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.
UPDATE: Dr Page Richards, director of the University of Hong Kong’s MFA programme, responded to this article saying that she and her colleagues were “saddened to hear of the closing of the City University MFA programme.”
However, Dr Richards says it is untrue that the CityU MFA offered the only opportunity to pursue a degree in creative writing without relocating to the US or UK: “The MFA at CityU, like every other MFA programme, we know, is situated on an already vibrant local and international landscape of MFA and other Creative Writing programmes.”