By Jan Mercker
Kashvi Ramani is one of those kids who seems to be good at just about everything.
Smart, beautiful, and community-minded, she’s an academic achiever, student athlete, professional actor and now a published author.
The Ashburn high school student just published her first middle-grade novel, “Kofi Chronicles.”
Ramani said she created the book in hopes of inspiring younger kids to follow their dreams—even if they don’t completely mesh with expectations.
The novel follows Ramani’s main character and alter ego Kofi (pronounced like coffee), a high-achieving tween who unexpectedly falls in love with acting.
“I always loved performing more than anything else,” Ramani said. “It’s always been a constant struggle: whether I should go for the route that everyone expects me to go for or do what I actually want to do, where I feel like I can make the biggest difference.”
“Kofi Chronicles” mirrors Ramani’s own career as an actor: falling in love with craft, figuring out her path and overcoming insecurities. The book follows Kofi from her first summer camp production of “Aladdin” as an elementary schooler (when getting cast as the comic relief character Iago instead of the lead role turns out to be a blessing in disguise) to landing her first professional theater role in a DC production of “A Christmas Carol.” Young readers follow Kofi’s nervousness and triumph through a talent showcase in New York that lands her an agent to a screen audition in Los Angeles.
Ramani, now 15 and a sophomore at Rock Ridge High School and the Academies of Loudoun, started the novel in 2018 as a middle schooler—a year after her professional acting debut at Ford’s Theatre in DC. She returned to writing during the pandemic and wrapped up the novel as a high school freshman. Ramani pitched the novel to the Bangalore, India-based publisher Timbuktoo Young Authors Publishing, and it turned out to be a perfect fit.
In real life, Ramani earned the role of Belinda Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, in 2017, a professional acting debut that changed her life. That production was also where she met her novel’s illustrator—the Loudoun-based teen actor Serena Parrish, who was also in the Ford’s production.
The young actors hadn’t met in person since “A Christmas Carol” wrapped up but have kept in touch online over the past four years. Parrish, now a senior at Woodgrove High School, has appeared in several big off-Broadway roles in recent years and draws cartoons and illustrations as a hobby. When Ramani caught some of Parrish’s images on Instagram, she knew they were the style she wanted for her book.
“Serena was the first person who came to mind,” Ramani said.
Parrish also has a cameo appearance as a character in the book, inspired by Ramani’s 2017 Ford’s audition. In the novel, Kofi meets a young actor at the audition who seems to have it all together, inspiring the nervous and unprepared Kofi with her organization and sense of calm.
While Ramani gears up for her sophomore year at Rock Ridge and has college plans down the line, Parrish has scored a top talent agent and plans to move to New York next fall to start auditioning and acting full time. Starting her senior year as a published illustrator was an unexpected and joyful development after a crazy pandemic year.
Ramani’s parents moved to the U.S. from India, and her novel also celebrates her heritage with educational tidbits for young readers through Kofi’s love of Indian food and Hindu festivals. It also explores her occasional discomfort at being the only Indian-American kid at auditions and classes and efforts to gently educate peers about her background.
“I’ve always wanted to promote diversity and lack of stereotypes and more authenticity. Who better to do that than someone who’s grown up so invested in Indian culture?” Ramani said.
The novel also tackles Ramani’s take on academic expectations in Northern Virginia’s Indian-American community. She says many of her peers are encouraged to excel in STEM fields, but there should also be a place for pursuing careers in the arts and humanities.
“Often there are not a lot of role models, and that was hard for me growing up,” she said. “I really hope that if this book reaches a kid who’s battling the [issue of] ‘Should I go for stability in STEM or should I go for my dream?’ it will help them.”
Like Kofi’s supportive parents in the novel, Ramani’s parents have helped her pursue her artistic dreams. But for Ramani, balancing her interest and aptitude for STEM, a challenging course load and her passion for writing and performing takes great time management skills and lots of Post-it notes.
Like Kofi, Ramani has also had to work through insecurities as a child actor who got into the game on the late side going into auditions with kids who have been performing since early childhood.
“When you go into an audition room, they don’t know how long you’ve been acting. It’s what you bring in the moment—the passion and the ability to be someone they can work with,” Ramani said. “I just put everything I have into whatever I do, and Kofi’s the same.”
In the past few years, Ramani has been involved with DC-based Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Shakespeare Everywhere program and online programming with Signature Theater, and she recently got involved with a professional teen improv troupe in McLean. As a freshman during the last school year, she got involved with Rock Ridge’s award-winning drama program. And, while Ramani said her interest is shifting to writing and directing, the arts and media are where her career interest lies.
Meanwhile, she hopes to inspire younger peers across cultures in competitive, tech-oriented Northern Virginia with her novel and its message that it’s okay to dream and pursue a career in the arts. The novel ends where Ramani’s professional career took off: with the joy of the successful DC audition.
“I like happy endings,” she said.
And she’s already fleshing out ideas for the second volume of “Kofi Chronicles.”
“I’m someone who never likes to stop,” Ramani said. “Once I have a trajectory, I want to keep going.”
Kashvi Ramani’s “Kofi Chronicles” is available at amazon.com. Follow the author on Instagram and Twitter at @kashviramani. Follow actor, singer, and illustrator Serena Parrish on Instagram at @serena_parrish.