Author Visit Educates and Inspires


Jennifer Hastings

Students gather in the South High auditorium to learn about writing from author Emily X. R. Pan. Pan visited South High virtually on Thursday, February 3 to discuss her young adult novel The Astonishing Color of After.

Ruisong Lan

On February 3, author Emily X.R. Pan visited Great Neck South High School. Pan is the author of the young adult novel The Astonishing Color of After, which follows the story of a biracial teenage girl, Leigh, and her journey of self-discovery after her mother died from suicide. The book navigates struggles with mental health, identity, and trauma. Given that many teachers in the English department had their classes read Pan’s novel, the visit was the perfect opportunity for students to have their lingering questions answered.

Pan’s visit was organized by English teacher Dr. Theresa Walter, who found The Astonishing Colors of After through a community known as Project Lit. After reading the book and attending a writing class held by Pan, Dr. Walter knew that she wanted Pan to speak at South High. “I found her writing style to be so different,” said Dr. Walter. “She had some sort of magic in the book combined with realism, and it provided me with a lens that I could really connect with.” Thus, Dr. Walter reached out to Pan’s agent and asked for her to speak at South High. They worked out a contract that detailed when the visit would take place, as well as the rules and restrictions.

The author visit was held in the auditorium during periods eight and nine. Because of COVID, Pan was not able to visit in person. Instead, she visited through a Zoom call with Dr. Walter, which was broadcasted on a large screen at the front of the auditorium. During the visit, Pan discussed the spark that inspired her to write The Astonishing Color of After and showed her writing process. After the presentation, Pan answered prerecorded questions from students. Because the meeting took place through a Zoom call, Pan had no way of interacting with the students in the auditorium. Thus, Dr. Walter presented questions for Pan to answer. “What I really liked was how she used the students’ names when she responded to them,” said Dr. Walter. “It was really cool, and I thought it made the experience feel personal. After all, the students were not just questions, they’re people as well.”

Because the visit was held during learning hours, many students could not attend. Those who were able to attend found her visit to be quite interesting. “Though I originally attended the visit because I was told to go by my teacher, I ended up really enjoying it,” said sophomore Tiffany Chen. “I really liked the way Pan answered the questions so thoroughly on the spot. A student asked something along the lines of ‘Is it right to blame yourself for a loved one’s suicide’? She answered this question in a unique way, saying that it is normal for humans to find an answer and point the finger at someone, that humans will always try to figure out ‘why’.” 

Many students also connected with Pan’s stories on a deeper level. “As a Chinese American, I heavily related to a great part of what Pan said,” said senior Elena Zhang. “I feel isolated from the rest of my family, especially due to the Eastern stigma around mental health.” Zhang said that they’ve always felt a disconnect between their identity and culture. They even started tearing up when Pan discussed her own struggles with depression.

By sharing the story of her journey, Pan left many students with a deep impression that would not soon be forgotten. “Writing The Astonishing Colors of After was not easy for Pan,” said Dr. Walter. “I hoped that from this visit, students were able to see the creative process that goes into creating art and potentially find inspirations of their own.”