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Born to Write

Senior Vyshali Manivannan has a newly published novel, a two-book series in process, and another pair of partly written novels that are, she says, "on the back burner."

Vyshali Manivannan
Vyshali Manivannan

She's more than a college student; she's a force of creative nature.

What's more, Manivannan's just-published novel Invictus, a searching and intense tale of a humanoid robot striving to win his creator's approval, was drafted when she was fifteen years old. After spending two years revising it, with the guidance of editors at Pearl Street Publishing of Denver, she saw Invictus come out last summer.

Now, as Manivannan approaches the end of a Dartmouth career that has buzzed with energy, curiosity, and literary production, this remarkable young woman, an English major who minored in anthropology and Japanese, has no ambivalence about what she wants to do with her life.

She is a writer. She wants to go on writing.

"I have a huge confidence in the creative process," she says. "As long as I'm still writing, I can be a happy functional human being."

"Vy never ceases to amaze me; she has more energy than anyone I know," muses Brenda Silver, the Mary Brinsmead Wheelock Professor of English. "Every time I talk to her, she is starting, continuing, or finishing a new writing project, doing research for her courses and her senior thesis on Asian women writers in Britain, reading novels, going to films, interacting with her friends. Sometimes she is so busy she forgets to eat; sometimes she comes to class in her pajamas. But whatever she does, she does intensely and well."

"I don't sleep much!" says Manivannan, who is slight and bright-eyed, with slightly wild hair. "It's a running joke with my friends. I'm always highly caffeinated and sleep-deprived."

As an American of Sri Lankan background, Manivannan has contended all her life with what she calls a sense of displacement. Phalanx, the living-robot hero of Invictus, embodies that as he struggles to bridge the book's human and robotic worlds.

At Dartmouth, Manivannan has traveled a similar journey. After studying in Japan and Ireland through college programs, she won a Waterhouse grant to spend two months of her junior year living and writing on her parents' native island, which she had only visited once before. That experience helped her to feel, as a senior, that she had achieved a new wholeness.

"When I was there writing, that let me tie together this thing I love doing with this country that I had rarely identified with," Manivannan reflects. "Linking those together allowed me to reconcile all the parts of myself."

Here on campus, Manivannan has learned all she could, knowing that almost anything could become fodder for future writing projects.

"I've always believed in being open to everything," she says. "College is a great way to meet people who are like you and different from you, and writing is all about the characters."

"As a student, she has been spectacular," adds Silver. "She has a lot going for her, and I'll be very interested to see where it takes her."

By DOUG WILHELM

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Last Updated: 5/30/08