On a recent Thursday evening, packs of sharply dressed Princeton students flooded the basement of Robertson Hall for a Goldman Sachs information session, hoping for a shot at success. Down the hall, a similarly dressed politics major from Malaysia, Elaine Leong ’13, spoke of her success of a different sort: becoming a published author as an undergraduate.
As Leong ‘13 described in her Nassau Literary Review-sponsored talk, “Published at Princeton,” her success arose from a chance encounter in the basement of Witherspoon Hall, where she met then economics Ph.D. candidate Kaiwen Leong *11 (no relation) and economics major Edward Choi ’14. The two had already began collaborating on stories of Leong *11’s life experiences, in which he endured abuse and several school expulsions before achieving acceptance to and graduation from Boston University, and later, acceptance to Princeton. Leong ’13, who has a strong background in creative writing, agreed to help with the project. “It was kind of like saying yes to getting married,” she said, laughing. “But I said yes, and I never looked back.”
The product of their yearlong collaboration was a rough manuscript, which they then solicited for publication, a process that would prove to be more difficult a challenge than expected. Leong *11 began searching for publishers in Asia, and Choi and Leong ’13 searched, unsuccessfully, in the United States. “It’s like throwing it into a void,” Leong ‘13 said. “It was a complete failure.”
Leong *11 finally secured a publisher in Singapore, Marshall Cavendish, and in late September, the book was released in Singapore under the title, Singapore’s Lost Son: How I Made it From Dropout to Millionaire Princeton Ph.D. (The title is now available in the United States in Kindle format.) Though feeling like a “plankton” in a vast sea, Leong ’13 and the others enlisted connections at the University to help spread the word, and secured Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, President Tilghman, journalism professor Evan Thomas, and former trustee Shelby Davis ’58 as reviewers.
Though still in the early stages of publicity, the experience thus far has been rewarding for Leong ’13, who was able to achieve her dream of being a published author before graduation from college. Asked what’s next, she joked, “Malaysia’s lost daughter.” Then she added, “Or my thesis.”
Eric Silberman ’13 is a molecular biology major from Lincolnwood, Ill.