AAPI Heritage Month: ASM Keynote Speaker R.F Kuang Shared Journey To Becoming an Author

In observing Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans Heritage month (AAPI), Andover invited R.F. Kuang to speak at All-School Meeting (ASM). A New York Times bestselling author of “The Poppy Wars” trilogy, “Yellow Face,” and “Babel: An Arcane History,” Kuang is now currently pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale University. During her speech on May 10, Kuang spoke about her journey in becoming an author.

Overcoming multiple stereotypes to become a published author, Kuang opened up her speech with how there is no “curriculum” in becoming a novelist. She emphasized that one can be a writer without prior connection to the industry or any specific type of studies, encouraging students to take risks.

“Very often, students ask me what steps they need to take to become a published writer, and I think we still have this assumption that writing is a career path that involves jumping through all the right hoops: submitting to contests, publishing in magazines, majoring in English, acquiring an MFA et cetera… Well, I have, and did none of those things, and somehow they still let me write books,” said Kuang during ASM.

As a Chinese immigrant, Kuang shared how her immersion into the English language at a very young age revealed her passion for books and writing. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, her readings were her first anchor to America.

“I fell in love with the English language because that was my entry point to becoming American.
My family immigrated to Dallas, Texas from Guangzhou, China, when I was five. And Chinese was my first language, but when we moved to the U.S., reading became my way of immersing myself in this strange language that I now had to exist in,” said Kuang during ASM.

Aquita Winslow, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD), shared her excitement over the keynote speaker’s participation in campus activities. She notably highlighted Kuang’s empathy toward student writers and the enriching conversation she led with Andover’s Asian Society.

“We worked with students from the Asian society to do the introduction. They came to dinner with us the night before so that they could learn a little bit more about Ms. Kuang and her writing and she could learn about the school from the kids which is really great. She also went into a class and taught in a Fiction class the morning of the ASM,” said Winslow.

Sophia Tabibian ’26 was particularly struck by Kuang’s journey from her uncertainty in her education path to success with her career, especially as a young author. Tabibian enjoyed the connections the speaker drew to the audience and noted how her young age allowed students to feel understood.

“[The speech] was really inspirational, but above all, I think that it was great that us students could relate to her more, since she is young. Coming from the student perspective, I think some of the ASM speakers can’t really relate to the student body, but she did. She knew what it was like to go through college and not necessarily know what you want to major in, and to me, that was a pretty special experience to have,” said Tabibian.

Sharing how personal details of her life allowed her to become an author, Kuang emphasized the importance of her past experiences within her writing. Tabibian appreciated Kuang’s vulnerability and openness, which made her consider more of Kuang’s personality rather than just her accomplishments.

“I really like how she spoke about her mother and her family. I think that the fact that she incorporated more personal aspects of her life, like her fiancé, her mother, the people who have sacrificed things for her, and are important to her, made me connect with her. When she shared those experiences, I felt more connected with her as a person, other than just an author,” said Tabibian.

Ethan Liu ’26, a member of the Asian Society at Andover, which partnered with CAMD to organize the event, highlighted his hopes for the future of All School Meetings.

“In light of AAPI month it’s really great that we were able to bring such a profound speaker to the school, to represent us as Asian society, and we hope that for the years to come we can keep doing this, and maybe even do it more often and not just once a year,” said Liu.