When Malavika Kannan came to Stanford in 2019, she says, she “mellowed out.” Her high school years in suburban Florida were consumed with advocating for gun violence prevention in the face of the Pulse nightclub and Parkland shootings and with writing her debut novel. The Bookweaver’s Daughter, published when she was 18, draws from Indian mythology and a younger Kannan’s impression of female friendship to tell the story of a 14-year-old girl with magical powers who challenges the oppressive ruler of the fictional land of Kasmiri. Now a junior, Kannan spends her time outside of class learning to garden and cultivating community with other queer artists of color on campus.
As a comparative literature major, Kannan studies postcolonial feminist writing from South India and Black womanist writing from the American South. “Both traditions of writing are looking for alternatives to domination,” she says, “whether that’s domination of language or the way we structure our relationships.” Inspired by writers and thinkers such as Arundhati Roy, Zora Neale Hurston, and Amiya Srinivasan, Kannan spends the academic year reading and absorbing, then writes during school breaks.
Her second novel, All the Yellow Suns, will be published in July. Set in Florida, the book follows 15-year-old Maya Krishnan, who, like Kannan at that age, “understands that things around her are messed up [and] feels frustrated that no one else seems to feel that way.” Maya falls in love with Juneau, who invites her to join a secret society of kids who are committed to resistance. Kannan hopes readers experience a sense of recognition when they read the book. “[I’ve] been told by everyone who read it that the end makes them cry, so hopefully there’ll be some tears as well.”
“I like that there’s a whole literature of books about girls who, like me, are thinking about their lives and their relationships with others.”
“We would visit my grandmother during summers in India, and she would tell me a lot of stories—Indian mythology and stuff. So I just got into it. [Before I could write], I would tell my mom stories, and she would write them down for me.
“When I came to Stanford, I was going to be a poli sci major because in high school, something that consumed me, that I thought about all the time, was gun violence, and I thought the best way that I could participate in ending it was by becoming a political scientist and working in advocacy. And I think I felt a little bit burnt out of that, especially during the pandemic.
“I ended up choosing comparative literature because I like the interdisciplinary focus, and also I like that it’s not tied to one country’s national literature.
“I actually prefer reading to writing. I would much rather read what someone else has to say and get to study that.
“Something that I really value about Florida is there’s a kind of resilience. Zora Neale Hurston is from Florida, and the ‘Floridaness’ oozes in her writing. Something that really strikes me about Their Eyes Were Watching God—the end is a literal, honest-to-God hurricane. I think [in Florida] there’s this kind of survival instinct [due to] these cataclysmic events, and it is also really pragmatic.
“I would say that my target audience is my friends. When I think about who I want to be pleased by anything I write, it’s three of my best friends; my girlfriend, Miranda [Liu, ’23]; and then my younger sister, Deepika. They’re my target audience for everything.”
Jacqueline Munis, ’25, is a former editorial intern at Stanford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.