Lost & Found: Lilian Li, Malaysia
Writing a YA novel about her culture helped this international student embrace her heritage
In our ongoing animated series “Lost & Found,” BU Today features stories about international students who share the journey from their homeland to Boston University. They talk about what they’ve left behind and one thing that has helped them forge a new life at BU.
In this installment, Lilian Li (COM’21) describes how she fell in love with books and reading as a child growing up in Penang, Malaysia. She says that all of her favorite books were American, ranging from Archie comics to the Princess Diaries series, in part because she couldn’t find any books about kids set in her own culture.
Li fell in love with creative writing in high school. After arriving at BU, she felt lonely and distanced from her culture. So she decided to write a YA novel set in Malaysia, basedloosely on her own life attending an international school. Then a friend told her about the book publishing program Creator Institute, which has ties to small publishing house New Degree Press. Overwhelmed by the demands of the program, she nearly gave up, but the instructor persuaded her to stick with it. She’s glad now that she did. In 2019, New Degree published her book, House of Koi.
Li describes the book as autofiction, and says writing it helped her deal with her homesickness and reconnect with her heritage. It’s the kind of book she wishes she’d had when she was younger, she says, and she’s hoping that discovering a story set in their own culture will help young Malaysians.