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Professor discusses her novels for Diversity Week

By Audrey O'Neil
On October 4, 2012

An instructor at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography led a book discussion yesterday for Diversity Week.

Scientific writing instructor Padma Venkatraman discussed her two published novels, "Climbing the Stairs," and "Island's End."

Venkatraman's first novel, "Climbing the Stairs," was published in 2008 and was based on her mother growing up as a young woman in India in 1942.  The title of the novel represents her mother's struggle.

"In the house that she lived, the women had to live downstairs and men lived upstairs, and she was not allowed to climb the stairs to go upstairs and the library was upstairs. All she wanted to do was go to the library and read books," Venkatraman said. "And that was a big deal, so to me, that was fascinating, and that period of history is really amazing because Mahatma Gandhi and Hitler, both of them lived at the same time. So the major contrast of violence and non-violence was present in the world."

Although Venkatraman did use the stories from her mother's own personal experience and her family heritage as inspiration, she also thoroughly researched during that time period and conducted many interviews with people who lived in that generation.

"Island's End," Venkatraman's second novel, takes place in the remote Andaman Islands, located near the coast of Thailand, but controlled by India. Venkatraman lived on the islands for a year while working in the field of oceanography.

Venkatraman has won the South Asia Book Award from the South Asian National Outreach Consortium and the Paterson Prize from the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College for "Island's End."

Venkatraman also has a third novel that is soon to be published, "A Time to Dance, "which is a young adult novel based on an experience that inspired her.

"It was based on a young woman that I knew who was a dancer, a classical Indian dancer, and she had a debilitating accident, and they told her she would not be able to walk again, and she danced after," Venkatraman said. "And to me that was so fantastic and just this woman with so much courage. It is not based on her life story; it was inspired by that. It's about both the physical recovery and spiritual recovery and all of these things that she needs to overcome."

Venkatraman has always enjoyed writing and encourages others to follow their passion for writing.

"If you love writing, then just write. And ultimately I don't think writing can be taught; it's a matter of you doing it," Venkatraman said. "Publication may or may not happen, but that does not mean you are not a valid writer. If you love it, you write it."

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