The University of Iowa

In the news: Ask the Author: Candace Chong Mui Ngam

October 27th, 2021

Cassandra Parsons, Arts Reporter, October 18, 2021, The Daily Iowan

Candace Chong Mui Ngam is an award-winning playwright from Hong Kong, China, and a current writer-in-residence in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. Her works include Wild Boar, The French Kiss, May 35, and Alive in the Mortuary. She was selected by the South China Morning Post as one of Hong Kong’s 25 most influential women. Ngam is also a six-time winner of the Hong Kong Drama Awards and recipient of the Best Artist Award by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.

(This interview has been revised for length and clarity).

DI: What inspired you to start writing? 

Ngam: We had school performances in our high school. It was the first time I wrote a play, for my classmates. My high school was quite a famous school in Hong Kong, but my academic results were not so good. I’ve always been not so confident, except for my Chinese writing, in the conversation. At that time, the experience of writing a script for my classmates to perform was really the first time I felt there was something that I was talented in. It was the first time that I believed I could be a playwright. Theater education is not as prevalent in the United States — in our society, jobs range from lawyer, banker, businessman, ranking them higher than writers or artists. In Chinese society, it’s more prevalent. 

DI: What drew you to the University of Iowa?

Ngam: I was invited three years ago. I think someone nominated me for the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation — that’s the foundation that supports me to come to Iowa. I think someone nominated me to come to this Iowa writing program, and the foundation really supported me. However, this trip was postponed for three years. The situation was quite serious last year at this time, so I’m very happy because I can finally be here. And that is very important for a writer like me for two reasons. One, I’m a working mother. So, when I was in Hong Kong, I was very occupied with my work and career. For writing, you really need to take time. You need to think, you need to accumulate and express your feelings. And the second reason — we had experienced a very bad year of social movement, very serious. And it ended up with a lot of people who fought for the freedom of speech, freedom of press, the idea of holding one country with two systems. There was a lot of pressure on Hong Kong’s press industry, education, as well as the creative industry. A lot of people leave the city disappointed by the government, they don’t hold any hope towards the future. I’m grateful that I have this period to look into my own feelings, and to find something that I can work on, and write something about Iowa City.