Creating Writing Pedagogy during the Cold War: The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program and Hong Kong Poets

Project: Research project

Project Details


This project examines the University of Iowa’s overlooked relationship to Hong Kong poetry during the Cold War by studying the first Hong Kong writers—Dai Tian (戴天), Wan Kin-lau (溫健騮), and Gu Cangwu (古蒼梧)—who attended Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP) during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By combining literary analysis, in the form of close readings of literary texts, and historical, archival research of key documents, such as funding proposals and correspondence between IWP’s director and philanthropic funding agencies in the U.S., this project employs two central methodologies to explore the cultural history of the exchange between IWP’s Cold War poetics and pedagogy and the evolution of these writers, including their development as political actors situated between British colonialism and a growing affinity with their Chinese identity. A major innovation of this project is the use of previously unexamined sources, such as Nieh Hualing Engle’s correspondence with Hong Kong writers and Wan Kin-lau’s MFA thesis at Iowa. This project breaks new ground by bringing to light how Iowa’s creative writing pedagogy was informed by classical Chinese poetry in translation, which was refashioned by Hong Kong poets, and how the history of Hong Kong’s poetry writing pedagogy can be traced to IWP’s early years. These writers were well aware of Iowa’s Cold War role, and even actively resisted American foreign policy, while at the same time adopting Iowa’s pedagogy and poetics, notably Iowa’s emphasis on individualism. This project posits Hong Kong poetry as a case study to examine the broader implications of the University of Iowa’s support for East Asian writers during the Cold War and to advance a new understanding of Iowa’s role in the formation of East Asian poetry in relation to world literature as a transcultural circulatory system. This project will produce at least three journal articles, each of which will explore a distinct manifestation of Iowa’s relationship to Hong Kong poets and advance a framework to contextualize the University of Iowa’s place in Hong Kong letters and East Asian literature at large with implications for understanding Iowa’s continued dominance among international creative writing programs and within the discourse of “world literature” today. Given the proliferation of MFA programs, including in mainland China in recent years, it is more urgent than ever to understand the origins of creative writing as a globalized discipline
Effective start/end date1/09/1928/02/22


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