Tamil literature: Where did all the children’s writers go?

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

In 1940, a young man of 18 entered a small magazine office in Chennai looking for a cashier’s job. A year later, he came out of the same office with a wealth of accomplishments, albeit as a writer.

The magazine was called Sakthi, run by Vai Govindan, a stalwart in the Tamil publishing industry. And the young man was none other than Al Valliappa, popularly known as ‘Kuzhandai Kavignar’ (children’s poet). Although Valliappa went on to land another job in Indian Bank in 1941, he continued to ignite 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 Tamil Nadu government instituted 'Kavimani Award' in Pillai’s memory to encourage writers under the age of 18. The announcement, which incidentally comes in Valliappa’s birth centenary year, raises hope to see more and more writers coming forward to take up the challenge, just like he himself did decades back.

According to author and literary critic MK Srinivasan, writing for children evolved as a literary genre in Tamil only because of Kavimani and Al Valliappa - the two pioneers of 20th century Tamil poetry. While Kavimani started writing for children in 1901 and made rich contributions to modern poetry for young boys and girls, Valliappa sort of picked up from where Kavimani had left and continued the legacy.

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