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Erik Hoel, neuroscientist and 2017 Emerging Writers Fellow, interviews authors Zia Haider Rahman and Mark de Silva. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know weaves an intricate tale of the 2008 financial crisis, the Afghanistan war, and how we construct our personal narratives. Mark de Silva’s Square Wave spans from the future of the United States to the past of Sri Lanka, addressing climate change, and the nature of art and consciousness, drawing from the author’s PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Erik Hoel is a writer and neuroscientist at Columbia University researching the neurobiological basis of consciousness.

Syntax/Synapse is a series of programs and essays exploring the intersections between literature and neuroscience, presented in partnership with the Princeton Social Neuroscience Lab and YHouse the Center for Fiction. Syntax/Synapse is generously funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Erik Hoel grew up in his family's independent bookstore, The Jabberwocky, in Massachusetts. His short fiction has appeared in Arts & Letters, American Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Our Stories, and received first place in the Writer’s Digest Annual Literary Fiction Competition. Essays of his have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Atlantis, and The Daily Beast, among others. He’s also pursued a career as a scientist, having received his PhD studying the neurological basis of consciousness. Currently he conducts research at Columbia University and his discoveries have been profiled in Nautilus and Quanta. Often his writing explores the intersection between the literary and the scientific. Hoel is a 2017 Emerging Writers Fellow at The Center for Fiction.

Zia Haider Rahman was born in rural Bangladesh, raised in London, and educated in England, Germany, and the United States. Appointed to a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University, and to a Director’s Visitorship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, he is a Fellow at New America, Washington DC, a Senior Fellow at the Kreisky Forum, Vienna.

His first novel, In the Light of What We Know, was first published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2014 to international critical acclaim and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, Britain’s oldest literary award. In a review for The New Yorker, the critic James Wood wrote “Isn’t this kind of thinking—worldly and personal, abstract and concrete, essayistic and dramatic—exactly what the novel is for? How it justifies itself as a form?…In the Light of What We Know is what Salman Rushdie once called an ‘everything novel.’ It is wide-armed, hospitable, disputatious, worldly, cerebral. Ideas and provocations abound on every page … A dazzling debut.” Writing in The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates described it as “remarkable … a unique work of fiction bearing witness to much that is unspeakable.” The novel has been or is being translated into several languages.

Mark de Silva is the author of the novel Square Wave (Two Dollar Radio, 2016). He holds degrees in philosophy from Brown (AB) and Cambridge (PhD). After six years on the editorial staff of the New York Times, first with its opinion pages and then with its Sunday magazine, he is now a contributing editor for 3:AM Magazine and an editor at large for The Scofield. In 2018, he will be a Tulsa Artist Fellow. 

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