Written by Wen Kin Lim | Image by Aleithia Low
In November 2016, Professor of Humanities and Director of the Writing Programme Robin Hemley, presented at two international writing conferences in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China.
The first conference on 11-12 November in Hong Kong was a bilingual event that explored English and Chinese creative writing as an academic discipline. Prominent international and local writers and professors from countries including the United States, China and Japan attended the ‘Creative Writing in the Academy’ conference to examine creative writing programmes from different pedagogical perspectives.
Professor Hemley was a part of a panel on creative writing programmes in East Asia alongside two other speakers from Yonsei University, South Korea and Waseda University, Japan.
He spoke about the innovative Writers’ Centre at Yale-NUS, where a hybridised approach of being both a literary centre and a centre for academic writing is taken. Traditionally, teaching in writers’ centres and programmes in universities around the world tend to place creative and academic writing programmes into two separate domains. However, Yale-NUS College has taken a different approach which is in line with the interdisciplinary pedagogy emphasised here, where students and faculty are encouraged to make connections between fields that are typically separate.
When explaining how the Writer’s Centre was able to take such a unique approach, Professor Hemley shared that it was the youth of the College that played a part in overcoming traditional barriers faced by older institutions.
“Our big advantage was that we were able to start from scratch, and we were able to create whatever we wanted so there were no lines drawn or walls built,” he said.
This approach makes the Yale-NUS Writers’ Centre popular for students and faculty. “It is a place that has a lot of reach in the community in many different ways” Professor Hemley reflected. He presented on the myriad of ways in which the Writers’ Centre engages the College community and how it all works symbiotically with writer’s fellows situated within the residential colleges, writing workshops and late night writes (intense and focused writing sessions at night facilitated by the Writer’s Centre).
At his second conference in the same month, the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) Conference in Guangzhou which ran from 25-28 November, Professor Hemley presented a keynote speech about travel writing in the 21st century.
He discussed how travel writing and literature has evolved substantially in the 21st century with technology increasing accessibility to literature not only from one’s own country but also from around the world.
“In the past, the people you were writing about were not your audience; Now you have to assume a global audience and ask what is the responsibility to people outside your nationality?” Professor Hemley said.
His keynote speech touched on themes of nationalism, patriotism and national identity. He added, “There has been an uptick in nationalism worldwide so I was talking about the travel writer’s responsibility as a global citizen rather than someone who is just tethered to their particular nation”.
Professor Hemley is also on the Board of the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, which aims to create a supportive network of authors and literary translators within and beyond the Asia Pacific region.
He noted, “It is an exciting time for the region and to be a part of the writing scene here because there is a lot going on in terms of creative writing in Asia that wasn’t happening ten years ago.”
Professor Hemley has written 10 books of nonfiction and fiction and his work has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.