What exactly makes a good story? Is it the sincerity of the prose? The memorable characters facing incredible circumstances? Or a beguiling beginning and a heart-felt ending? In the case of Meet Lana, a story by Concordia alumna Kelly Wu, the answer is all of the above. In this recently published book, Kelly (Class of 20) tells Lana’s life-changing story of love, strength and compassion. And here’s the twist: Lana’s story has the potential to help transform the lives of children in need.
We reached out to Kelly to get some insight into the inspiration and motivation behind her book.
Who was the inspiration for Lana?
Meet Lana is based off of a true story of a little girl named Lana. She was born with life-threatening defects including Spina bifida occulta and severely clubbed feet. Through the help of Baobei foundation, Lana was brought to Shanghai and was able to receive a number of lifesaving operations. Throughout her time here, she was cared for by a number of loving families who took her in as their own. Lana now lives in Japan with her parents David and Sarah Anderson.
Your book raises awareness and support for the Baobei Foundation. How did you become familiar with Baobei?
The director of Baobei Foundation, Ms. Evelin Tai, is the mother of two Concordia alumni; therefore, Baobei just always seemed to play a role in the Concordia community. Having been a student at Concordia since fifth grade, Baobei Foundation was introduced to me early on, and I cannot even clearly recall when I first learned about the organization. Throughout middle school and high school, some of my peers’ families took care of Baobei babies. I always looked to these families in awe of their compassion and capacity to share love. In Junior year, I interviewed Ms. Evelin Tai for the Storytelling Agency course.
Have you always been interested in telling stories and writing?
Storytelling and writing have always been important aspects of my life. I enjoyed reading and gradually grew to love writing throughout the years. Especially when it comes to telling meaningful stories or expressing my ideas, writing has been an important outlet. Throughout middle school, I journaled my thoughts through poorly-written poetry; In high school, I dug into literature as a space to reflect on self, humanity, morality, ethics, justice, and purpose. It was really in the course Storytelling Agency that I got to explore how writing could be used to share what I believe in and create positive change in our world. In addition to writing, creating art also plays a significant role in my self-expression. By capturing my emotions and thoughts through images, I have the opportunity to process and understand my experiences.
You wrote this book while you were a student in the Storytelling Agency class at Concordia. Can you tell me a bit about the class? How did it help propel you forward as a writer and storyteller?
Storytelling Agency is an applied learning course at Concordia centered on capturing and creating stories that “celebrate the human spirit and foster a sense of global community.” Students learn about creative writing, content writing, the professional writing industry, and have the opportunity to work alongside conscious entrepreneurs to share narratives that move society forward. Through the class, I became familiar with the tools of storytelling—how to conduct empathy interviews, tell a meaningful story, revise while honoring my original vision. It is through this class that I learned about Lana’s story and had the opportunity to capture what I learned in my unique voice.
You are sharing Lana’s story with a whole generation of young readers. What do hope the kids who read your book will take away from it?
The most important message I hope to convey through my book is that every child deserves a chance at life. This is Baobei Foundation’s central message as well. I know that every child’s journey is different—some children need more support while others face less difficulties growing up healthily. Whatever it takes, every child still deserves a chance to experience life. Lana is a joyful little girl who can laugh, learn, and live because a group of compassionate strangers believed in her; every child should have the same hope. Through my book, I also hope to further inspire compassion and to share what love and empathy are capable of.
Is there a story from your childhood that really impacted you?
This isn’t a story but a person that really impacted me was my aunt. She really impacted me throughout my childhood, and I dedicated Meet Lana to her. She taught me about kindness and strength, approaching life with a sense of humor, and was the most selfless and stubbornly independent person I know. Her presence and companionship in my childhood ensured my happy and healthy upbringing and continues to shape who I am today.
So, you are currently enrolled at Northwestern. Tell us more about what you intend to study there?
I will be starting my first year of college at Northwestern in a week as a Biomedical Engineering major in the Mccormick School of Engineering! I know, Engineering is completely unrelated to authoring and illustrating picture books. However, I hope to continue taking courses that will challenge me as a storyteller and artist.
Will we be reading more from Kelly Wu the author?
I hope so! Even though I know I will be an Engineering student this fall, I have no clue what the future holds for me. There are so many stories around me that should be told, and I am excited to see how my voice and platform evolves as I learn through life.