Senior’s robot tale to hit stores
By Jinah Roe
Published on Friday, January 14, 2005
Budding writer Vyshali Manivannan '05 will sign copies of her novel "Invictus" Saturday at the Dartmouth Bookstore. Manivannan, a woman of Sri Lankan heritage born in the U.S., wrote of a sense of displacement parallel to her own in the United States through the lives of "living robots" that struggle to construct human identities.
An intimate and enthralled crowd of Dartmouth students gathered in Sanborn library earlier this week to listen to Manivannan read from the novel, which she wrote at age 15 during a world history class at her Louisiana high school.
Manivannan, an English major and Japanese and anthropology double minor, decided to address certain themes based on her own life experience struggling to reconcile her Sri Lankan heritage and her American nationality.
"I was interested in how different characters are displaced socially and culturally," Manivannan said.
The characters in "Invictus" take the form of living robots that desire human identities, but Manivannan said she had not originally intended to write a work of science fiction.
"At the time I wrote it, I was merely interested in artificial intelligence," Manivannan said. "This book was my first experimentation with displacement."
Displacement is an important issue for Manivannan -- she said she found difficulty asserting herself as a writer, given her Sri Lankan heritage.
"Culturally, writing is not something that happens a lot in Sri Lanka. Most people in Sri Lanka choose to go into more technical fields. I wanted to be a writer, but culturally, it wasn't the norm," Manivannan said
"Invictus" may be Manivannan's first published work, but she has been actively writing since childhood. When asked about those works, Manivannan shyly grinned and rattled off a long list of works in progress that are "just sitting in my computer right now."
Manivannan said she is hesitant to publish some of her ideas due to the delicate subject matter, namely politics and her opinions of Sri Lanka.
"There's a real element of danger to this stuff," Manivannan said.
Manivannan said she gets ideas for characters from observing people around her.
"Dartmouth has been a great source of inspiration in that sense," Manivannan said. "I've started novels based on the way a man holds a cigarette."
In advising young writers today, she remarked solemnly: "I remember this one line in a book, 'Go for the jugular.'
"Don't be afraid to say whatever you want to say. Don't second-guess yourself. It's harder to put into practice. Don't be crippled by your fear."
Manivannan's book was accepted under an outside fellowship program. She received $1,500 as an advance before publication.
Dartmouth awarded Manivannan a Waterhouse grant during her junior year so she could travel to and write about the culture of Sri Lanka. With the information she gathered, Manivannan managed to write a creative nonfiction story.
Reflecting on her development as a writer, Manivannan claims her style has changed drastically since she penned "Invictus."
"I have a different perspective. I'm older now. I've read more books. I've been through more," Manivannan said.
As for Manivannan's future goals as a writer, she claims she is "desperately in need of an agent."
"I need to get myself under a good publishing house," Manivannan said.
Still actively writing, Manivannan said she could not wait for graduation.
"I'll have more time to write," Manivannan said.
"It's hard to be both a writer and a student at Dartmouth. At the same time, I love being here."