URI instructor wins two writing awards for second novel for young adults

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – September 27, 2012 — Padma Venkatraman, an instructor of scientific writing at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, 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 her novel Island’s End.

“I am so delighted and honored to be recognized in this way,” said Venkatraman, an oceanographer who worked at the URI Coastal Resources Center and the URI Graduate School before focusing full-time on her writing. “It’s humbling to have been selected for these awards from among the thousands of young adult books that have been published.”

In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews describes Island’s End, published in 2011, as “the story of an isolated island culture [in which] a girl guides her people into the future despite encroaching mainland influences.” The book takes place in the remote Andaman Islands, located near the coast of Thailand but controlled by India, a place Venkatraman worked for a year prior to coming to Rhode Island.

The South Asia Book Award is given annually for outstanding works of children’s and young adult literature published in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom that accurately and skillfully portray the culture, people or heritage of South Asia. The award will be presented at a ceremony in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 13.

“To receive an international award, one that crosses so many boundaries, is very touching to me,” said Venkatraman.

The Paterson Prize for Books for Young People was particularly satisfying to Venkatraman, since it is awarded by a poetry organization at a time when she was enrolled in her very first poetry class.

“I’m thrilled that the poetry community would consider my book worthy of recognition,” she said, crediting URI Professor Peter Covino for getting her excited about poetry. “Sometimes I still think of myself as a scientist, so to be recognized for these literary awards is especially humbling.”

Venkatraman began writing as a student in India, first for Indian newspapers and later for adult and children’s magazines. Her first book, Climbing the Stairs, published in 2008, depicts a young girl coming of age in India as her nation struggles for independence. It received the Julia Ward Howell Award from the Boston Authors Club and was named Rhode Island Book of the Year by the Association for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature.

The author is nearing completion of her third novel, tentatively called A Time to Dance. In it, a young dance prodigy’s world opens up in ways that deepen her spirituality as she recovers from losing a leg in an accident. It will be published in the spring of 2014.

Asked how she decided to write books for young adults, Venkatraman recalled seeing life through the eyes of adolescents when she worked for a school early in her career. While she is thinking about eventually writing an adult novel, she said that the response from her young readers has been especially motivating.

“I’m inspired when kids come up to me and tell me that my book changed their life,” she said. “There’s something good that happens to them when they read good literature. I feel like they might actually do something positive for the world after reading it. So I want to be sure that they have excellent literature to read.”