Senior (Spring '20 Grad) | Beijing, China
What made you decide to become an English major?
From a young age I have loved reading and writing. I was quiet as a child and an extreme introvert, so reading books and making up stories were a refuge where I could comfortably spend time with myself. However, it was in high school that I realized writing stories was not just a hobby, but the one thing that I am really passionate about. I kept a blog at that time and was thrilled when what I wrote actually touched other people’s hearts, or even changed the way they see things. And since I am bilingual, I would really love to see how my writing in both English and Mandarin can help people from different cultures understand each other better. That was when I decided to make it serious and study English and creative writing in university.
What was your favorite class in the English department, and why?
My favorite class was Gothic Literature. Technically it is a class in the English department, though I took it when studying away in London. I have always been fascinated by gothic arts. I loved that class because it wasn’t just a literature class where students read and discuss gothic texts, but an immersive experience that involved field trips, film viewing, and introduction to cultural events which exposed students to “gothic” as a cultural genre.
What has been the most influential work of literature in your journey as a writer thus far, and why?
Jim Grimsley’s Comfort and Joy. This probably isn’t a typical answer, and I picked it not so much for its “literary fame” — though I personally adore Grimsley’s style — but for the role it played at a certain stage in my life. Comfort and Joy was the first “queer fiction” that I’ve ever read. Growing up in China, though I have always been concerned for LGBTQIA+ rights and wanted to write stories about them, I never really had much chance getting to know “queer literature” as a genre. I imposed restrictions on myself even when I was writing “queer stories.” Comfort and Joy was the book that broke down those restrictions. For me it is a beautiful book.
What do you consider the most rewarding part of being an English major?
For the “literature” part, the most rewarding is delving really deep into a text and trying to dig out some hidden meaning or message. This is like a treasure hunt, and it always fascinates me how written texts connect me with authors long gone. More fascinating though is how a text can be interpreted in ways the author never intended, and be given new meanings by generations of readers. For the “creative writing” part, the most rewarding is just the process of revising. It’s like how a sculptor refines a statue.
You completed the English honors program and your thesis--amazing work! How was your experience?
This past year has been quite unusual. My advisor and I were in different time zones, and then NYU had to go remote because of COVID-19, which disrupted my working schedule quite a bit. I would be lying to say writing my honors thesis wasn’t hard and exhausting; there were times when I thought I could never finish it. But I really pushed myself and tried to take quarantine as an opportunity to demonstrate discipline. Now that I’m done with my thesis, all these past efforts were worthwhile.
What advice would you give to students considering majoring in English at NYU?
If you really believe this is the thing you love, go for it — explore new possibilities while you can. The reading and writing skills you gain by majoring in English will serve you well in many, many fields. Personally, I believe the things we learn as English majors are especially important right now, because to interpret a literary text is to empathize and put ourselves in others’ shoes.