Low-Residency MFA Comes to China

Stephen Morison Jr.
From the January/February 2010 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

On January 15, City University of Hong Kong, an English-language school with seventeen thousand students and a campus notable for its urban, contemporary architecture, will begin accepting applications for a new low-residency MFA program in creative writing. Up to thirty students will be admitted and spend two summers and three long weekends on the Hong Kong campus studying poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction in English over the course of two to four years. While the program will have a focus on Asian writing, it is open to writers from anywhere in the world.

The program's first writer-in-residence, Xu Xi, a native of Hong Kong who has written seven books of fiction and creative nonfiction and is the current faculty chair in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, thinks the low-residency program will appeal primarily to English-speaking applicants from China, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and perhaps India. "The English language is actually owned by a lot of different people," says Xu in describing the rationale behind the program, the first of its kind in Asia. "I'm writing a form of Chinese English, a form of Asian English. The Philippines have their form of English; the Indians have their form of English."

Xu says she wouldn't be surprised if the program drew interested writers from the Chinese diaspora in North America, Australia, and the United Kingdom as well. She also points out that there are many Western writers who spend considerable time in Asia.

Joining her on the faculty of the new program are poets Tina Chang, who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, and Hunter College in New York City, Marilyn Chin, a professor at San Diego State University's MFA program, and Ravi Shankar, founding editor of the literary journal Drunken Boat; fiction writers Madeleine Thien, Sharmistha Mohanty, and Jess Row; and creative nonfiction writer Robin Hemley, director of the nonfiction program at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, among others. At the first summer residency, novelist Timothy Mo will be on hand as visiting writer.

Kingsley Bolton, the chair of the university's English department, says the new program is part of an effort to raise the profile of the school's arts programs. "In the next few years, we are aiming to make the English department here a leading center for creative writing, drama, and cultural studies, not only for Hong Kong but also for the whole of the Asian region," he wrote in an e-mail.

The top criterion for admission to the low-residency program is the quality of a writing sample, which consists of ten pages of poetry or twenty-five pages of fiction or creative nonfiction, along with a personal essay on the candidate's creative philosophy and a critical essay on some aspect of writing craft; two letters of recommendation are also required. Tuition is approximately $18,465, but Xu says they hope to make some scholarships available.

The deadline for applications is in April. For more information, visit the Web site at www.english.cityu.edu.hk/mfa.

Stephen Morison Jr. is a contributing editor of Poets & Writers Magazine. He lives in Beijing.