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#AuthorsTakeAction campaign against coronavirus goes viral

Providence Journal logo Providence Journal 4/15/2020 G. Wayne Miller
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NARRAGANSETT – Best-selling author Padma Venkatraman had an idea:

"What if authors were to take action on social media, using a simple hashtag, #AuthorsTakeAction, to show that we're taking this pandemic seriously?" is how she phrased it on her blog.

a close up of a bottle next to a book © Provided by Providence Journal

She did not expect it to go viral.

But it did, with so many authors contributing that Publishers Weekly, the bible of the book world, was compelled to feature it in a story, "#AuthorsTakeAction, Authors Save Lives."

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In her post, Venkatraman asked fellow authors to help raise awareness of the precautions everyone should be taking during the coronavirus crisis. She was moved, she wrote, after happening upon a group of people who were ignoring the repeated calls by Gov. Gina Raimondo, Health Department chief Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott and many others to practice social distancing and not congregate.

a woman taking a selfie in a room: Novelist Padma Venkatranan in a 2013 photo. [The Providence Journal, file / Frieda Squires] © Frieda Squires Novelist Padma Venkatranan in a 2013 photo. [The Providence Journal, file / Frieda Squires]

"Yesterday, when I was taking a walk on a beach, I saw a group of teens playing contact football," she wrote. "They were crying `Stay 6 feet away!' as though it were a joke."

Initially, she wrote, she felt "powerless."

Then she recalled listening at a conference to Denver public school teacher Julia Erin Torres, who champions writing as a tool for social change.

"Her words made me feel empowered," Venkatraman wrote.

And so, she asked authors, "What if we were to do something quick and simple – just take photographs of ourselves wearing home-made PPE, or create a quick video message?"

Venkatraman's first photo was of her wearing a face covering and holding a copy of her latest critically acclaimed book, "The Bridge Home," with a sticky note on which she had written: "I'm taking responsibility, I'm taking COVID-19 seriously," under the hashtag #AuthorsTakeAction.

"If we don't act together, soon, the toll taken by COVID19 will only increase," Venkatraman wrote. "Our readers are frustrated and looking for guidance from people they trust: celebrities, athletes, teachers, authors. Let's use our platform to reach them with an important message: Take social distancing seriously. Save lives. Our emergency personnel need our support."

This was on April 7.

"Within 18 hours of the campaign's official launch two days later," Publishers Weekly stated, "the hashtag went viral as hundreds of other authors posted under the hashtag. Late Thursday afternoon [April 8], #AuthorsTakeAction was trending on Twitter, with 2,750 tweets by 5:30 pm ET." Photos, videos and sticky-note messages galore.

Venkatraman kept going, with more notes, including one that states "MAINTAIN Physical Distance. Mind-merge with characters in books." Another declares "Stay 6 ft away from strangers, Get as close as you like to characters in books."

The army of authors haven't stopped. Good luck getting through all the responses to a Twitter search for #AuthorsTakeAction. You might want to set aside a good part of your day.

Speaking with The Journal on Thursday, Venkatraman said: "I started this because I believe that words have power and when a community gets together and sends a message of solidarity, it has an impact. In this case, I hope teachers and librarians will take our messages of patience and hope to readers and show them authors are taking social distancing seriously.

"I am especially sensitive to kids who are in tough situations and who may not have a safe haven or whose parents may be facing incredible stress. I realize men of color wearing masks are being treated unjustly in places.

"Still, I do think it's important to send a nuanced message to say we care and get our information from reliable sources at this time when conflicting opinions and false opinions can spread."

WATCH a video of Venkatraman on the national PBS show Story in the Public Square.

Venkatraman said she is hoping to connect with existing book drives, where authors could "send a sensitively composed message on a bookmark or postcard that can be tucked into a book for a child -- or, if they are financially able, perhaps order a book, perhaps written by a diverse author they admire and wish to support, via an independent bookstore and send that along with a message."

So if you are an author who hasn't yet joined the cause, please do. This one just did.

Learn more at www.padmavenkatraman.com. For existing book drives, visit https://bit.ly/34BkyWD

Questions and answers about coronavirus.

gwmiller@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7380

On Twitter: @gwaynemiller

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