West indian literature

Tamil literature: where have all the children’s writers gone?

Al Valliappa started writing poems at the age of 13. Even before he became a famous children’s writer, he decided to write only for children. Illustration: Immayabharathi K

In 1940, an 18-year-old joined a small magazine agency in Chennai looking for a job as a cashier. A year later, he came out of the same office with many accomplishments, albeit as a writer.

The magazine was called Sakthi, led by Vai Govindan, a mainstay of the Tamil publishing industry. And the young man was none other than Al Valliappa, known as “Kuzhandai Kavignar” (children’s poet). Although Valliappa landed another job at Indian Bank in 1941, he continued to instill a sense of wonder and awe, hope and excitement in children through his writing for years to come.

Valliappa built on the legacy of Kavimani Desigavinayakam Pillai (1876-1954) who first sowed the seeds of children’s literature in Tamil. Recently, the government of Tamil Nadu instituted the “Kavimani Prize” in memory of Pillai to encourage writers under the age of 18. The announcement, which occurs on the occasion of the centenary of Valliappa’s birth, gives hope that more and more writers are coming forward to take up the challenge. , just as he himself did decades ago.

According to author and literary critic MK Srinivasan, children’s writing only evolved as a literary genre in Tamil thanks to Kavimani and Al Valliappa – the two pioneers of 20th century Tamil poetry. While Kavimani began writing for children in 1901 and made rich contributions to modern poetry for young boys and girls, Valliappa has somehow picked up where Kavimani left off and continued the legacy.

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