URI instructor’s third novel inspired by lives of disabled dancers

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Author to speak at local bookstores, libraries

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 12, 2014 – A Time to Dance, the third young adult novel by award-winning author Padma Venkatraman, an instructor of scientific writing at the University of Rhode Island, tells the story of a young dancer who loses her leg in an accident and, as she recovers, opens her life to love and spirituality.

“It’s certainly a novel about a person who is differently-abled,” Venkatraman said, “but it’s not just a story about physically overcoming her disability. It’s also about how she rethinks her life, how the experience changes her deeply, and how she goes from being relatively frivolous to being much more spiritually inclined.”

Inspired primarily by the lives of several disabled dancers, the story also harkens back to an event in the author’s childhood, when she was bitten by a poisonous snake as a teenager growing up in India, which nearly resulted in her leg being amputated.

But in a strange coincidence, the novel is also shockingly similar to the experience of a Boston Marathon bombing victim, a dancer who lost a leg in the tragedy. Venkatraman finished writing her novel just two weeks before the bombing.

“The coincidence is certainly spooky,” she said. “And it turns out that many things that occur in scenes in the book are eerily similar to some of what happened to some of the bombing victims, like flinging away their crutches and refusing to use a wheelchair.”

Venkatraman will speak about A Time to Dance in a series of free public events in the coming weeks. She will be at Books on the Square in Providence on May 17 at 4 p.m.; Bank Square Books in Mystic on May 18 from 3 to 5 p.m.; Curiosity and Mischief in Narragansett on June 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Wakefield Books at the Wakefield Mall on June 14 from 1 to 3 p.m.; and Willett Free Library in Saunderstown on June 16 at 7 p.m. She will also lead a three-day writing workshop at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference at URI June 19-21.

National Book Award winner Gloria Whelan describes A Time to Dance as “a gift of faith and hope,” while Kirkus Reviews says it “weaves together several themes so elegantly that they become one.” A Denver Post reviewer said the book is “sure to go on my favorite books list…[It] will definitely dance its way through your heart as it did mine.”

Venkatraman began writing as a student in India, first for Indian newspapers and later for adult and children’s magazines. She later became an oceanographer before returning to writing. 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.

Her second novel, Island’s End, is the story of a girl on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean who guides her people into the future despite encroaching mainland influences. It won the South Asia Book Award from the South Asian National Outreach Consortium and the Patterson Prize from the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College.

A Time to Dance was officially released April 25 at the San Fernando Creative Arts Centre literary festival in Trinidad, where Venkatraman was the keynote speaker.