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Inspiring Innovation: Visiting Author Neal Shusterman Shares His Secrets

Inspiring Innovation: Visiting Author Neal Shusterman Shares His Secrets

TAS has the opportunity to host visiting authors each year, and we were delighted to welcome Neal Shusterman to campus this semester. An inspiring author and speaker, Mr. Shusterman led writing workshops for Upper School students, spoke to large assemblies of Upper and Middle school students about his unorthodox career path, and offered advice to aspiring writers in small group gatherings. Mr. Shusterman also signed dozens of books for our community members, who greatly enjoyed this moment of connection with him. In the following essay, TAS student Davina J. ‘25 shares her gratitude for the inspiration she received from him. Thank you, Davina, for sharing this reflection!

 

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Neal Shusterman is, in many ways, an innovator. “I don’t believe in the saying there are no original stories,” he told our Honors Creative Writing class. “You can always create an endless flow of new material.” This philosophy is prominent in his vast repertoire of works, including more than 30 award-winning books for children, teens, and adults. From a world centered on the idea of death-jedis giving humans loving and compassionate deaths (Scythe, 2017 Michael L Printz Honour book), to a society accepting and approving of the harvest of teenagers for body parts (Unwind, Best Book for Young Adults Award winner), or an examination of substance abuse from the perspective of the drugs (Roxy, Florida Book Award Gold Medal),  Shusterman's narratives are a fusion of the fantastical and the deeply personal, resonating profoundly with readers around the world. His narratives, though fictional, are not detached from reality; rather, they serve as a mirror to ours. 

 

During his recent visit to Taipei American School, Shusterman led workshops in different English classes. Students were encouraged to drop in during their free periods, and as each workshop centered around a unique topic, each session gave students a different experience.  What remained consistent was his ability to inspire and open the minds of his audience. “In my Literature & Law class, we practiced pairing characters with settings… I came away with an appreciation for the intricate worldbuilding necessary to bring life to a fictional world,” said Rae S., ‘24. Impressively, Shusterman managed to balance his workshops, keeping them full of words of wisdom, while simultaneously giving us practical writing advice. 

 

On his final day at TAS, Shusterman hosted a presentation in the auditorium. Contrary to other author visits, Shusterman's presentation was an interactive Q&A session, empowering the audience to direct the conversation. Here Shusterman revealed another time he chose the road less travelled: during his college years. “I didn’t want to be like all the other aspiring writers who chose an English major… so instead I majored in theatre and psychology. After all, theatre was the art of the mind while psychology was the science of the mind… ultimately, this was how I got my first writing gig.”  

Shusterman also shared his thoughts on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Instead of fearing or condemning it, Shusterman points out that AI isn’t going to just go away anytime soon. He’s learned to embrace it and use it in his writing process – such as dictating his writing to Chat GPT for it to transcribe, saving precious time. He jokingly ended the segment by reminding students to always be kind to our machines, as they’ll remember everything we said once they become sentient.  

After his auditorium presentation and book signing, my friends and I had the honor of attending his luncheon. There, we were able to hear sneak peeks of his unreleased books. While the themes addressed were topical and relevant, they were simultaneously full of empathy, humor, and genuine human connection. By the end, we were all enthralled and giggling from the witty dialogue and prose.   

 

I’d like to thank Neal Shusterman for taking the time to share the joy of writing with all of us, allowing us to join in the same journey he charted out. To celebrate the craft of writing while inviting us to view it from a different, adaptive perspective. For some, his books introduced the wonderful world of reading. For others, me included, he showed us what writing and worldbuilding could be, and directly inspired us to become creative writers. For all, he stands as an inspiration to be creative, adaptive, and above all else, confidently yourself. Thank you, Neal Shusterman, for helping us become the writers of tomorrow.