Third-Year Student Goes ‘Beyond the Surface’ to Publish Her First Novel at Vanderbilt – The Vanderbilt Hustler

Junior Teresa Xu explores self-expression and personal storytelling through her first book, “Beyond the Surface: Empathy, Identity, and Storytelling.”

Alexa White

Xu uses personal experience to explore empathy, identity and storytelling. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

Junior Teresa Xu can proudly call herself a best-selling and published author even before her time at Vanderbilt was over. Writing a novel at any age is no small feat. Xu leaned into her novel in more than one way: she spent hours writing, editing, and polishing her work. Xu comes from Vancouver, Canada, and studies sociology, English and medicine, health and society. She provided a summary of her book for more insight:

“”Beyond the Surface: Empathy, Identity and Storytelling » explores the complex influences that make up who we are and how we can understand and express ourselves through different types of storytelling. Through various personal anecdotes and mixed media that the author encountered, the book reflects on how social and personal identity intertwine,” Xu said. “Some dimensions of identity highlighted in the anecdotes include cultural heritage and the impact of language on identity.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 made many students sit back and reflect on their experiences, and Xu was no exception. During the pandemic, she made time to not only work on her writing, but also think about meaningful ways to communicate the valuable lessons she had learned and come to appreciate.

“I guess I always wanted to write just because I read a lot of books in my childhood, so I always thought it would be cool if I could write one too,” Xu said. “I guess it was partly because I was remote during COVID and there was still a lot going on around the world. I was thinking about a lot of issues and wanted to share my thoughts.

For Xu, coming to Vanderbilt meant meeting people from all walks of life and lifestyles, challenging him to confront his own identity and experiences. Her exposure to individuals who are very different from her has prompted her to reflect on the need for empathy and understanding that she expresses in her novel.

“I’ve learned and thought a lot more about my social identity in general just because I feel like I didn’t think about it a ton growing up because a lot of my classmates had the same kind of ethnic and cultural background than me,” Xu said. “Coming to Vanderbilt and meeting people from all over has opened my mind.”

Vanderbilt’s courses also facilitate Xu’s ability to engage with diverse perspectives. Specifically, her experiences in literature classes broadened her knowledge of different genres and showed her how storytelling could be used to express her social identity.

“[The] The ENGL 1240 Nonfiction writing workshop was very helpful in showing me this genre and my first attempt to try this type of writing,” Xu said. “I think it’s helped me think a lot more about aspects of my identity and things that I hadn’t really considered before Vandy, especially in terms of my cultural heritage and my home language. school. Even the Visions program also helped me think about ideas of social identity.

Additionally, student organizations such as Story 4which helps facilitate the exchange of stories between individuals to promote empathy, also inspired her to address themes related to empathy and understanding in her novel.

Xu took advantage of Vanderbilt’s resources to hone her writing skills, including the writing studio. She described the process as arduous, as she was challenged to turn her vague ideas into concrete literature. With the help of a structured writing schedule, she not only fleshed out her writing, but was held accountable to a series of editors and deadlines. The Creator’s Institute, with its associated publishing house “New Degree Press”, has been his daily bread during the publishing process and has provided all the tools needed to succeed while minimizing procrastination.

Xu encourages all young writers to take the plunge despite any self-doubt.

“Part of it is just being more comfortable or trusting your own voice and realizing that you have your own story or stories to share because I also thought I could never do something like this,” Xu said.

She stresses the importance of writing for the sake of writing and not getting into stereotypical or self-imposed boxes about what writing should be. Xu realizes that there are many different genres of writing that operate independently and vary greatly depending on the style of writing.

“I always thought books should be fiction, but I realized that there are also different kinds of books. What I wrote is more of a memoir,” Xu said. don’t have to limit yourself to anything.”

Xu’s book can be found for purchase at Amazon.

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