By Page Richards
On a late Thursday afternoon, we sit in the editorial offices of the journal, Yuan Yang. Used for creative writing seminars and events, room 119 in the historic Main Building is small and flexible and lovely. A large fading poster looks over quiet blues and reds. At the far end, soft grey fabric benches offer a comfortable place for our conversation about “Takeru’s Pinch,” a short play by Mie Lindsay coming out in the next issue.
Room 119 also overlooks a fountain and pond where the fish, one year, were given names by the HKU creative writing undergraduates, the lifeblood of the journal. Still by far the fattest, the thick fish Shakespeare, aware of his big name (it seems), checks the cracks of the small cement pond for water and greens. He is an apt metaphor for our journal’s growth.
In 2000, Professor Shirley Geok-lin Lim and the creative writing class put together a collection. Born of a commitment and final spring projects in poetry and fiction, Yuan Yang was printed in the department and disseminated to the university and a wider community. When I arrived a year later, the creative writing class of 2002 took hold of the vitality coming out of the university and Hong Kong and voted to open submissions worldwide. The journal became international.
The journal has followed the spirit of its undergraduate leaders, buoyant, youthful, determined, sophisticated, wide-open. The students’ invitation to writers around the world caught on. Representing the vibrancy of the city and the cross-cultural moves of language in its own history of change, Yuan Yang offered writers from Malaysia, Iran, Singapore, the U.S., the Mainland, Canada (to name a few) to look again at their own writing in English to be part of an international journal.
Yuan Yang grew. Writers from the creative writing class took internships with experienced editors for reading, editing, and production. The journal listened to those who were making it and those who were submitting to it, and found a focus in what Derek Walcott called the “possibility of language waking to wonder.” It was exciting each year to encourage new writing in Hong Kong and help transmit flourishing prose and poetry from abroad. Our recognition increased, along with subscriptions, contributors (“it’s an honor to be included in Yuan Yang”), and expanding stories, such as Bonnie Glover’s fiction which has won a publishing contract with a major press.
Yuan Yang: A Journal of Hong Kong and International Writing, now appearing every year from the School of English, features original writing. It welcomes the gift of young writers, such as the nonfiction by Jeslyn Kwok or fiction by Abby Yeung. It prizes new work from established authors, such as “Adagio for Anna” by Raquelle Azran, “ching ming” by Gilbert Koh, and “Lonesome Road” by James Ward.
Established and creative, Yuan Yang has been important in developing programmes for creative writing in the School of English, including the new MFA in Creative Writing in English, the launch of the HKU Poetry Prize in 2010, and the Writers’ Series. It has been selected for inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Memorial Library and a special collection, which has “a long-standing library commitment to building exceptional research collections with an emphasis on innovative and experimental writing.” Built upon our local community in Hong Kong and international kinship, Yuan Yang gives back. Year after year, it takes care, as the undergraduate Lo An Ki says of the writer’s work, to be “stubborn” even “on one word,” attempting to get it right, again and again, in every work, every issue.
Page Richards is Associate Professor in the School of English. She teaches creative writing and drama, co-ordinates the MFA in Creative Writing, and is the Director of Moving Poetry, the Writers’ Series and the Drama Series