Q. IS THERE ANY CONFLICT BETWEEN YOUR TWO LIVES?
A. There used to be. For the longest time, I pursued my literary interests away from my professional work.
In math, in academia, there’s a strong pressure to do just one thing. You are not taken seriously if you have diverse interests. I remember a colleague who begged me not to tell anyone that he had a piano at home. He was afraid he wouldn’t be thought of as a dedicated mathematician.
So when I was working on my first novel, I didn’t tell people about what I was doing. When I went off to a writer’s colony, my academic colleagues assumed I was working on some esoteric government project. I had at the time a grant from the Air Force. They only learned about the novel after an excerpt was published in The New Yorker.
Many novelists have undemanding day jobs. But I have a profession which takes up huge parts of the psyche. While I worked, or floundered, on my first novel, I sometimes asked myself, “Why make literature?” I wondered if I shouldn’t devote myself exclusively to doing research and improving my standing as a mathematician. That push and pull has eased some since the successful publication of two novels.
Q. HOW DID YOU PUT YOUR TWO LIVES TOGETHER?
A. Through finding innovative ways to do math outreach. That was the bridge.
Lately, I’ve been giving a talk, “The Mathematics of Fiction,” at literature conferences and writers’ colonies. The idea of deconstructing fiction into its simplest building-block components has a far-reaching mathematical analog which I try to bring out. Here at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, I’ve been designing a course where our students do a creative project that requires the use of math.
Monday, June 16, 2008
Claudia Dreifus interviews novelist and mathematician Manil Suri in the Science Times: