Even though Randolph College is over 7,000 miles from China, the campus and its traditions are the inspiration behind one of the newest young adult novels to hit Chinese bookstores.
Di Bei ’18 is the author of 白马伶娜 (The Horse Ballerina), which tells the story of Dannie Cheng, a young ballerina with a passion for horse racing. When an accident ends her ballet career, Cheng comes to the United States, bonds with a horse named Romeo, and finds a new passion in horse racing. Many of the places and events that transpire in the book are inspired by Bei’s own experience as a teenager studying abroad.
“In The Horse Ballerina, both Dannie’s dancing career and her bonding with the horse came from my Randolph experience,” Bei said. “Since it is my first novel, I started with things I am most familiar with so that I didn’t need to make up the details. The dancing part is inspired by the dance program at Randolph, and Romeo was the name of one of the white horses at the Randolph barn.”
Although her degree from Randolph was in biology, Bei also excelled in creative writing. During her junior year in 2017, she won second place in a national writing competition, sponsored by Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House based in Shanghai, China. In addition to her success in the competition, she was awarded an internship with the company. Since Bei was originally from Beijing, she was eligible to receive a Jolley Mini-Grant from Randolph to help offset traveling and living expenses in Shanghai.
It was during the internship that Bei was encouraged to develop her short stories into a novel. She completed the 60,000-word manuscript for The Horse Ballerina during her senior year at Randolph.
“It is my first novel, so I was exploring the possibilities the whole time,” Bei said. “It felt like walking in a coal mine with a lamp in my hand. I couldn’t see very far, and I only knew what was coming next when I took a step, but I had some instincts to guide me.”
Bei is currently enrolled in the MFA in creative writing program at Boise State University, where she is teaching fiction writing to undergraduate students. In addition to The Horse Ballerina, Bei’s short story, To Kill the Second, was published in The Masters Review in July. She is already working on a second book deal with her publisher as well.
“I want to thank professor [Gary] Dop and professor [Laura-Gray] Street for all the help and encouragement they gave me,” she said. “Without them, I would never have the confidence to apply for the graduate program, since English is not my native language. Not only did I learn how to write from my professors, I also learned how to teach, and even how to live my life better. They made me a stronger and kinder human as I stumble through life.”
Bei’s book is available for purchase here.
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