Campus Profile: Kenny Xu, Published Author & Freshman at Heart

In the middle of a humid Saturday afternoon, we plop down on some of Nummit’s blue patio chairs and get to chatting. Kenny and I've known each other since the end of our freshman year, but we haven't had a proper chance to just sit down and talk for several months. We talk about our summers, how the semester is shaping up, the travesty that is #UnionGate2017, among many other topics before we settle down and I crack open my notebook. The grand topic du jour? Kenny's writing background. This junior English major is already a bonafide author, publishing his first novel Trisk - a sports/dystopian hybrid during his sophomore year of high school. 

To cover the basics, I ask him how he got started in writing. Like many artists, he picked up his medium of choice - in his case, a pencil and notebook - quite young. "When I was 6 years old, my elementary school had a writing competition. I was 6, and I was enthusiastic about everything. I decided, 'hey, I'm going to write a poem'," he says. That fateful poem was titled, "Winter is Coming". Yes, Kenny Xu predicted Game of Thrones back in 2002. I tell him he should totally sue George R.R. Martin for all he's worth. All jokes aside, he says this deep "imagination for the world" was what opened his mind to the possibilities of storytelling. 

Since then, he's used his personal brand of whimsical imagination as "fuel" for his creative side. I ask what inspired him to weave together the story of Trisk. He says he started writing the novel in 9th grade after finishing The Hunger Games. "I really wanted to see what our society could become - I'm a huge football fan. I wanted to put dystopia, sports, and culture together to basically see what would happen. I mean, imagine people killing other people over their favorite sports team. [Trisk] sort of reflected my view of entertainment culture at the time". 

When I ask him what suggestions he would offer an aspiring author, he says, "You have to have a thick skin. You have to write bold things and be bold in what you do. If you write like everyone else writes, you're never going to distinguish yourself. You have to be able to take the heat". He makes it very clear this applies to all forms of writing, whether it be sci-fi fiction or political commentary. "One of my favorite authors actually is Ta-Nehisi Coates. I read his book Between the World and Me, and while I may have disagreed with his point of view, I thought that it was really thought-provoking, and that's the kind of writer you want to be. You want to make people challenge their own assumptions. Do it respectfully, but challenge people."

After grilling him on his writing background, I work our way towards a few more 'whimsical' questions. To keep the literary theme going, I ask him what book character he would be. He’s apparently already thought about this before, because he answers, “Gatsby” before I catch my next breath. “Without the whole dying part,” he adds dryly. When I ask why, he says he appreciates Gatsby’s “one-track mind – how he’s so passionate about his world. He’s truly a self-made man”.

Next, I ask him what advice he'd give to his freshman self. For the most part, freshmen are "idealistic", he says, and forever open to optimism, something he strives for every day. He does, however, wish he could've done a couple things differently. "I guess I would tell myself not to worry. I had a lot of anxiety - anxiety over whether I had the right friends, if I had the right church, the right school. I always spent way too much of my time worrying about homework, girls, and friendships... too much unnecessary time overanalyzing things." He mentions the sort of debilitating routine he sees a lot of Davidson students fall into - eat, do homework, party, (just barely) sleep, and repeat. He says he would urge himself to get up and try something new for a change. He tells me, "You can't be complicit in losing the part of yourself that yearns for new knowledge and truth. You gotta do something, and not be afraid if you fail. I can't tell you how many times I've failed, how many times something didn't work out." 

Lastly, I ask what he'd name his boat should he ever have the occasion to own one. He takes a minute, then says, “The S.S. Katrina”. I have to stifle a giggle at the irony. When I jokingly inquire to the meaning behind it, he laughs. “It’s powerful!” he says. He's got me there. 

If you're a like-minded soul searching for optimism in a cynic's world, you can satisfy your whimsy fix at KennethXu.com, or preview Trisk on Amazon

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