A Formula for Success

Published: Feb 1, 2008

A Formula for Success

He’s a celebrated novelist whose second novel, The Age of Shiva (W.W. Norton & Company), will be released in February. But he’s also a mathematics professor who specializes in partial differential equations and is dedicated to fostering interest in mathematics among K-12 students and the general public.

Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Manil Suri – who will read from his new novel at UMBC on February 5 – compares his passions for both fiction writing and mathematics to a game of chess. “You need to track each piece along several future moves to see which option is the best,” he explained. “In mathematics, the chess pieces are variables or unknowns, and you’re trying to find a rule that describes how they can behave, while in fiction, the pieces are characters, and you’re trying to figure out which path they should take to yield the most dramatic outcome.”

Suri’s debut novel, The Death of Vishnu (W.W.Norton & Company, 2001), was published to critical acclaim, garnering rave reviews from The New York Times Book Review, the Boston Sunday Globe and Minneapolis Star-Tribune, among others. Suri was named a Time magazine “Person to Watch,” and the book received multiple awards, including the 2002 Barnes and Noble Discover Prize, the 2001 Ralph Heyne Corrine Buchpreis (Germany), the 2002 McKittrick Prize (UK) and a Pen-Bingham Fellowship for 2002-04. In 2004, Suri was one of 184 distinguished scientists, scholars and artists selected from a field more than 3,200 applicants to be named a Guggenheim Fellow.

The Death of Vishnu was also a finalist for the Pen-Faulkner award, Kiriyama prize, Pen-Hemingway award, L.A. Times Art Seidenbaum Award, Torgi Literary Award (Canada) and W.H. Smith First Novel award (U.K.). In addition, it was long-listed for the Booker Prize (2001) and the IMPAC Prize (2003) and was a New York Times Notable Book for 2001. 

Last year, Suri was awarded a University System of Maryland (USM) Elkins Professorship. First established in 1978, the Elkins professorships support professors “who demonstrate exemplary ability to inspire students and whose professional work and scholarly endeavors make a positive impact beyond the USM.”

“Mathematical writing (involving proofs, for instance) is hard enough to understand when the readers are mathematicians – the non-expert has almost no chance,” said Suri. “Making the beauty, elegance and job of mathematics accessible to non-mathematicians is therefore a very challenging endeavor – one that I have tried to pursue through outreach activities, like my presentation on infinity.”

Most recently, Suri has worked with middle and high school students in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, and brought UMBC students from his First-Year Seminar class in Computation as an Experimental Tool  to help teach computer-aided mathematics sessions to Baltimore high school students.

“In our complex society, we need more people to have the reasoning skills that come with mathematical and scientific study,” Suri added. “Get ‘em while they’re young!”

Suri will read from and sign copies of The Age of Shiva at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery on Tuesday, February 5 at 7 p.m. RSVP at eventrsvp@umbc.edu.



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