UMBC Postdoctoral Fellow Evelyn Thomas Profiled in SIAM News

Evelyn ThomasEvelyn Thomas, a faculty diversity postdoctoral fellow in mathematics and statistics, is featured in a new profile in SIAM News, a widely read newspaper sponsored by the professional organization Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. The profile was written by Mathematics Professor Manil Suri.

The article illustrates the challenges and opportunities Thomas has encountered over the course of her career and describes her motivation for researching her doctoral dissertation.

In the article, Suri also writes about the work Thomas has begun since arriving at UMBC for her postdoc, including starting a new epidemiological project based on the rise of cholera in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010 and continuing work on projects with social engagement.

“I hope to communicate to everyday people that if there are problems they see in their communities: HIV/AIDS, gun violence, racism, sexism, homophobia—anything—a solution does lie within mathematics,” Thomas said.

To read the full profile in SIAM News, click here. For more on the 2013-2015 UMBC faculty diversity postdoctoral fellows, click here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, Writes Washington Post Op-Ed

ManilSuriHeadShotIn a Washington Post op-ed titled, “Court ruling ignores India’s rich heritage of diversity,” UMBC mathematics professor Manil Suri critically examines the Indian Supreme Court’s recent decision to reinstate a 19th-century law criminalizing homosexual acts (Section 377), a law which had been repealed by a lower-court decision in 2009.

In his analysis, Suri draws attention to how the ruling “criticized previous judges for relying too much on foreign precedents in their ‘anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons.'”

Suri argues that the foreign imposition in this case is actually the statute itself. He notes: “The statute was passed in 1860 as part of Britain’s colonization of India. Other former British colonies, from Malaysia to Jamaica, have the same law on their books, also labeled Section 377.” He concludes, “India needs to be reminded of its rich heritage of diversity, its historically liberal attitude toward variations in human behavior.”

You can read Suri’s full op-ed here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, to Present Lecture at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery (12/7)

Mathematics professor and affiliate professor of Asian Studies Manil Suri will be presenting a talk on his “Trimurti” trilogy, based on the trinity of Hindu gods Vishnu, Shiva, and Devi, at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian on Saturday, December 7, at 4 p.m.

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Suri, who is an award-winning author, will be discussing his use of mythological motifs in his three novels: The Death of Vishnu (2001), The Age of Shiva (2003), and The City of Devi (2013). His novels have been translated into 27 languages. The talk will also include a discussion with curator Carol Huh and artist Rina Banerjee. Banerjee’s work has been exhibited in India, Japan, and throughout Europe and her talk will focus on her use of materials to call forth the long history of migration.

The talk is free to attend. The event is sponsored by the Embassy of India and Freer and Sackler Galleries. You can find more information here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, in The New York Times and on Public Radio

ManilSuriHeadShotMathematics professor Manil Suri has made quite an impact with a fresh New York Times op-ed ed that re-introduces readers to mathematics through an approach based in the humanities.

In “How to Fall in Love with Math” Suri writes, “Despite what most people suppose, many profound mathematical ideas don’t require advanced skills to appreciate.” One idea that he finds often intrigues people is the origin of numbers.

He writes, “Think of it as a magic trick: harnessing emptiness to create the number zero, then demonstrating how from any whole number, one can create its successor. One from zero, two from one, three from two — a chain reaction of numbers erupting into existence. I still remember when I first experienced this Big Bang of numbers. The walls of my Bombay classroom seemed to blow away, as nascent cardinals streaked through space. Creatio ex nihilo, as compelling as any offered by physics or religion.”

The op-ed received the maximum of 360 comments in its first day online and quickly became the #1 most emailed article of the day. Read the full op-ed on The New York Times website and stay tuned for recaps of Suri’s upcoming radio interviews on the beauty, power and mass appeal of math.

Update: After Suri’s New York Times op-ed appeared in print, he was invited to interviews with Joy Cardin on Wisconsin Public Radio (listen) and Michael Cohen on 1320 WILS radio in Lansing, Michigan (listen). Suri’s Times piece remains the #4 most emailed article of the month.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, on BBC’s “The Forum”

Manil Suri, professor of mathematics, was recently a guest on the BBC World Service program “The Forum” to discuss “Obsessions, new and old, in literature and technology.”  Joining Suri on the show, which was hosted by Bridget Kendall, were internet analyst and cyber-sceptic Evgeny Morozo and Spanish novelist and translator Javier Marias.

Suri discussed his recent novel, “The City of Devi,” in which the main character is obsessed with bringing a pomegranate to her missing husband.

“She feels that having this symbol almost will somehow lead her to her husband. And in a way it does tell her something about her marriage, but in a very unexpected fashion,” he said.

The guests also spoke about our obsession with technology.  “There’s this belief in technology and computers – these are going to really save us from having to think,” Suri said.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, on the Marc Steiner Show

Manil Suri, professor of mathematics, was a guest on the Marc Steiner show on March 14 to discuss his new book “The City of Devi.”

Steiner asked Suri how he reconciles his background in mathematics with the spiritual themes that run through his books, which feature Hindu deities.

“There’s a lot of contrast. On the one hand, I’m very enamored by these ideas from spirituality and almost mysticism,” “But on the other hand, the logical part of me says, ‘hey, wait a minute, that’s not really what’s happening.’”

The full segment can be heard here.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, on “The Daily Beast”

Manil Suri was deep into writing his latest novel, “The City of Devi,” when he realized something alarming: the novel was impossible to finish. The mathematics professor even used a mathematical construct, a possibility tree, to arrive at his conclusion.  He described the process of creating this mathematical “proof” in an essay for “The Daily Beast.”

Of course, Suri did eventually finish the novel, which was published earlier this year. Despite the fact that he disproved his own proof, Suri feels that his mathematical conclusion was a worthwhile endeavor, because it allowed him to reach the insights he needed about the story.

“My possibility tree still communicated something essential: a warning that the story could not be satisfactorily completed under the conditions I was imposing. I had been too beholden to literary orthodoxy, too insistent that the narrative obey the strictures of reality. It was time to loosen these constraints, let the plot freely borrow from whatever genre it pleased: adventure, Bollywood, fantasy,” he writes.

The full piece, “A Mathematically Impossible Novel: Manil Suri Explains ‘The City of Devi’” appeared online on March 15.

Manil Suri, Mathematics, in the News

thecityofdeviMathematics Professor Manil Suri has been in the news recently, as his latest novel, “The City of Devi,” hits bookstore shelves.

On Wednesday, February 6, the Baltimore City Paper published a review of the book, saying that it “is “streamlined and cinematically purified… by narrowing his focus and heightening the emotional tenor of the city, he manages to give it a mythological quality.”

Suri also spoke with the Baltimore Sun for a February 3 interview entitled “UMBC mathematician Manil Suri publishes his third novel.”  This novel completes a trilogy about hindu dieties that Suri began with his 2001 book, “The Death of Vishnu.”  Speaking of this book, Suri said, “When I first started thinking about the trilogy, I always had an arc in my mind of the past, the present and the future… But my book about the future was an evolution. It took me 12 years to write. Even when I got to the midpoint, I didn’t know if it was going to be about Brahma or about Devi. Every story needs a creator. As the most well-known, Brahma was the most logical face to put there. But when you dig deeper, the true Hindu trinity really is Vishnu, Shiva and Devi, who represent the three different strands of Hinduism. Brahma was a later addition. He came in during the post-Vedic period, when people tried to tie those strands together. Because Devi has nine incarnations, she can be anything: the destroyer, the creator and the symbol of art. But, Brahma’s mythology is such that he doesn’t get activated until you’re at the end of a cycle. If I had been writing a post-apocalyptic novel, he might have been the right person.”

Suri also spoke to NPR’s Weekend Edition, where he talked about how leaving India has affected his writing about the country. “I grew up in like one room of a large apartment, and we were kind of the only Hindu family in an apartment that had three families of Muslims, so you know, that’s why I think the Hindu-Muslim thing keeps coming up in my novels. I don’t think I would have had the space or the quiet to actually concentrate on fiction. I do think that coming here I can sort of see the country much more — much more like a globe, like you would see the moon from the Earth or vice versa. And I think especially with this novel, I can see these relations like, OK, [India is] sitting there next to Pakistan and China, you know, all three of which are armed with nuclear weapons. So that’s one of the advantages,” he said.

Finally, on February 6, Suri spoke with WYPR’s “Maryland Morning” for a segment called “When a Mathematician Turns Novelist.”  Host Tom Hall pointed out that the theme of a trinity appears often throughout the book, and Suri admitted that even he didn’t pick up on the theme until late in his writing process. “I actually gave up this novel, and I started a new novel, and I told my agent ‘This is not going to work.’ I even had a mathematical proof that this novel could not be completed. .. and then when I saw the number three, I realized that these three characters have to somehow come together,” Suri said.

“The City of Devi” Reviewed in the Washington Post

thecityofdeviOn January 29, the Washington Post praised “The City of Devi” by Manil Suri, professor of mathematics, in a review by Ron Charles.

Proclaiming it “the best sex comedy of the year about nuclear war between India and Pakistan,” Charles commends the book for the fact that it “never dips toward cynicism, never loses its essential sweetness, no matter how cruel or kooky the action… the whole story manages to keep hurtling along toward a surprisingly tender ending.”

“Even amid the wondrous variety of contemporary Indian fiction, Suri’s work stands apart, mingling comedy and death, eroticism and politics, godhood and Bollywood like no one else,” he wrote.

The full review can be read here.

Book Presentation: “The City of Devi” (2/6)

thecityofdevi On Wednesday, February 6, at 7 p.m. in the Allbin O. Kuhn Library Gallery, the Humanities Forum will present a reading and signing of The City of Devi, the new novel by Manil Suri, professor of mathematics.

This will be the inaugural reading from The City of Devi, a dazzling, multilayered novel that not only encompasses a searing love story but, with its epic reach from quarks to mythology to geopolitics, also encapsulates the fate of the entire world.

Suri will discuss the cultural, religious, and geopolitical issues touched upon in his book, particularly in the context of India’s future.

About The City of Devi:

As Mumbai empties under the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation, Sarita, a thirty-three-year-old statistician, can only think of one thing: being reunited with Karun, her physicist husband. Why has he vanished? Who is he running from? How will they form the family of three he’s always wanted? To find him, Sarita must journey across the surreal landscape of a near-abandoned city, braving gangs of competing Hindu and Muslim hoodlums. Joining her is Jaz—nominally a Muslim, but whose true religion has always been sex with other men. Danger lurks around every corner, but so does the incongruous and the absurd: the patron goddess Devi ma has even materialized on a beach to save her city from harm. Sarita’s search leads her to this beach, thrusting her into a trinity so mercurial, so consuming, that it will alter her life more fundamentally than any apocalypse to come. 

Fearlessly provocative, wickedly comedic, and propelled with rocket-fuel energy, The City of Devi exuberantly upends assumptions of politics, religion, sex, and India’s global emergence.

This event is sponsored by the Asian Studies Program with support from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Dresher Center for the Humanities

More information can be found here.