USF student receives award for first published novel

As a young boy, USF graduate student Kun Li was fascinated by the history of his native country of China and the tales of its heroes and heroines told by writers.

But as a young man, Li chose a degree in electrical engineering with an interest in computer science and statistics analysis as a career, only hoping he could one day make his childhood dream of becoming a writer come true.

“Ever since elementary school, I can remember wanting to write,” he said. “I even tried to write a few lines when I was eight.”

It took Li five years to write his first novel “The End of the Dynasty,” which was published in China in early January using the pen name Yi Li and is now available in the U.S.

Jen Xie, a family friend, said that Li is “very talented” for having “been so young” when he first started writing his novel at age 23.

“When his book was published in China, it was very popular – both online and in hardcopy,” she said.

So popular, in fact, that it won the Top 10 Gifted Award and the Golden Award for Arts in the Chinese Century Caifeng Achievement Award in June.

Xie said that this award is one of the most “prestigious national awards for elites and top accomplishments in arts and sciences” and the ceremony for the award was held in Beijing’s Great Hall of People, which is the largest auditorium in China.

Li said that growing up and throughout his college career, his parents, who reside in his hometown of Guiyang, China, have always encouraged him to study anything that would “help develop his character.”

However, Li soon found that he was leading a double life. By day, he was an engineering student at USF, working on research for his dissertation. But by night, he was a writer, creating his own stories from the histories that had intrigued him as a child.

“It wasn’t always easy,” Li said. “There were nights when I would look up from writing and it would be dawn, and I would have to go to class without going to bed. But I couldn’t give it up.”

“The End of the Dynasty” chronicles a group of young warriors on a journey to fight for their country in the final years of the Song Empire. Along the way, the warriors face and overcome their own weaknesses, exploring themes of patriotism, friendship and loyalty.

With this “great accomplishment,” Xie said she doesn’t believe this will be the end of Li’s writing career.

“He has many other good stories that he may eventually publish one day,” Xie said. “People are waiting for his stories.”

But Li, who also illustrates his stories, said he wants nothing more than to be a “free soul” who can “write what he wants to write” and not have to make a living by “feeding the people what they want to read.”

Even if that means living a double life for years to come, Li said that he’s happy to do it to see it all pay off in the end.

“This is my dream,” he said. “I want to express my opinion about life through the characters in my novel and have it mean something to people.”