Padma Venkatraman’s debut novel Climbing the Stairs (Putnam) climbed the charts before its official May publishing date. Although this is her first novel, she has penned 20 other books on a variety of subjects for adults and children. She has plenty of story ideas, just not enough time to write them.
Writing isn’t her only vocation. In addition to being an adjunct chemical oceanography professor, she’s the director of the Office of Graduate Diversity Affairs. And she and her husband, Rainer Lohmann, an assistant chemical oceanographer at URI, are new parents.
Although she has degrees in oceanography and engineering, her novel isn’t about either. It’s about a young female adolescent growing up in British-occupied India where Gandhi is leading a nonviolence movement to Indian independence while World War II rages on. It’s loosely based on her mother’s experiences.
Everyone told the novelist not to take the time to title the book since publishers always change it. She did and they didn’t.
“I think the title works on many levels,” the author says. “The 15-year-old protagonist lives in a restricted household and is forbidden to go upstairs to the library because she is a female. She sneaks into the library anyway. Her climb is to womanhood and personal freedom. It’s also about India’s freedom from colonization to independence.”