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Gao Named First Recipient of Harlequin Diverse Voices Scholarship

Ying Gao, MFA ’24 was very surprised upon learning that she was the first-ever Emerson College recipient of the Harlequin Diverse Voices Scholarship.

“It means a lot to me. English is not my native language. It’s kind of a challenge to write in English,” said Gao, who receives $2,000 thanks to the scholarship

Ying Gao MFA ’24

Gao was a teacher before moving to the U.S. in 2014 from China, and has since written four novels in English, She now lives in Minnesota with her family, and recently graduated from the University of Minnesota at the age of 40.

Harlequin, a global publisher of romance, fiction, and nonfiction, created the scholarship this year for students enrolled in Emerson’s Popular Fiction graduate program. Scholarships are awarded by program faculty to students who bring diverse voices and stories to their writing and show exceptional talent and passion for a pursuing career in writing. 

“Emerson College is thrilled to have been selected as a Harlequin Diverse Voices Scholarship institution. We designed our MFA in Popular Fiction Writing and Publishing with inclusion in mind,” said Kim McLarin, Interim Dean of Graduate and Professional Studies. “Fully online and asynchronous, it can be completed in as little as five semesters and is more affordable than many comparable MFA degrees. As a result, diverse aspiring writers from all over the world have joined our community, where the joys and challenges of crafting high-quality romance, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller, horror and young adult fiction are celebrated.”

Faculty reviewed writing samples submitted with admissions applications, and then determined Gao was the one. One faculty member said, “Gao, in addition to being a fluid and compelling storyteller of great depth, best represents the goals and ideals of this scholarship.” 

The selection committee said, “In Ying Gao’s fiction the settings are vivid, the characters complex, the stakes high. Her voice is quietly penetrating, unafraid to dig into the dark spaces of the psyche and the heart in order to illuminate what it means to be human in this world. This is precisely the work of good fiction.” 

Gao enjoyed writing romance stories in Mandarin, but for English, she prefers to write on more serious topics such as women’s fiction.

“I want people to know how the bottom class feels, and stories of women from a lower class and low-income families,” said Gao. “It reflects something about ordinary people’s lives and how they struggle, and how they try to get what they want.”

Her submitted work is about a very poor undocumented girl in China whose father disowned her because she wasn’t a boy.

“Under this circumstance, she tries to get more education and try to find true love. But finds that love hurts and there are disappointments,” said Gao. “Her pursuit of true love goes badly – and she is just 15 years older than her son. She becomes crazy, her husband locked her in a room for two years, she went into a mental hospital, then goes in treatment and plans to open book store or go to college.”

Despite just starting weeks ago at Emerson, Gao can share how the program has already helped.

“I love it. This is what I want. Especially the writing workshop. I submitted two chapters and I got a lot of very, very helpful suggestions,” said Gao. “If I didn’t attend Emerson I don’t know if I could figure out the correct editing I need.”

Gao also believes that this scholarship is just the beginning of great things to come.

“I went to two people in my 20s to ask them about my future. And one said I’d be really rich at 27, it’s 13 years later since I was 27,” joked Gao. “I hope this scholarship will get me good luck to get my goal of being a published writer.”

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