Participant Testimonials

May 02 - May 07, 2010

I have twice had the privilege of attending the BIRS workshop on Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science and praise it highly. Having attended many scientific conferences (in the fields of physics and mathematical biology) as well as literary workshops, I can say that the BIRS workshop is special, even unique, both in fostering a community of mathematicians and scientists who are also writers, and providing support for the refinement of our work. My fictional work involves science in two ways. I use characters who are scientists and mathematicians, and I also use ideas and metaphors from math and science to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters. It has been invaluable to me to get feedback at the BIRS workshop from readers who understand both the science and the literary aims. On the one hand, having scientist/writers respond to my work on a personal level allows for a 'reality check' wrt how I depict the men and women of science/writing. Many mathematicians and scientists who are also artists or writers, especially women, have reported to me that they felt understood by my stories. This is valuable to me because in the broader literary community (where I publish) the two headed science-writer beast is rare and often misunderstood, as are mathematicians and scientists, who, if they appear at all, are generally portrayed in caricature, i.e. more or less as nerdy, crazy, or sociopathic. On the other hand, I have also received invaluable feedback and insights on the science/math material I use in my fiction. For example, I learned about Conway’s free will theorem at this last BIRS meeting, and happened to be working on a section of a novel that discusses free will. In addition, I am deepening my understanding of the arrow of time, also a major theme of my novel, from one of the participants who has researched that area. As in any interdisciplinary field, it is hard to be a jack of all trades, let alone a master, and we rely on the help of sympathetic and informed colleagues. BIRS creative writing in science and mathematics workshop has been masterful in making this a real possibility for me. Thank you for supporting it.

Wendy Brandts Physics, University of Ottawa

I was grateful for the thoughtful, constructive responses to poems from fellow/sister workshop participants in the Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science Workshop. The broad array of expertise and skills in a variety of scientific content areas and writing genres led to feedback at a very high level, and an atmosphere of humor, appreciation, and support; thank you! I found new directions for my work, solutions to problems in it, and a fascinating variety of new questions and methods to bring to writing! The experience will improve a manuscript that has been a finalist and semifinalist in national contests, and has already suggested a new chapbook to work on; and places to send current work, projects to participate in. My thanks to BIRS, the Banff Centre, Florin & Marjorie, and participants for the stimulating company, the terrific facilities, the great food, the spousal companion policy, the Olympic pool, the glorious mountains!

Robin Chapman Professor emerita
Waisman Center & Dept. of Communicative Disorders, University of Wisconsin

The workshop "BIRS Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science" was exceptionally appreciated and enjoyed by all participated. Moreover, we connected with the Literary Arts programme at the Banff Centre and organized together the "Breaking Barriers" event, which attracted an unexpectedly large number of participants. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to improve through this wonderful exchange of ideas, which only BIRS could have given to us.

Florin Diacu Mathematics and Statistics, University of Victoria

The Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science workshop helped my research immensely. I was able to receive feedback from experts in the mathematical and scientific aspects of my work as well as from experts in associated aesthetic philosophies and methodologies. I have already prepared some pieces for submission (and hopefully publication) based on the editorial feedback I received at the workshop. My research and teaching are located at the intersections between science, mathematics, and creative writing. In addition to the fresh insights I have received in the context of my research, this BIRS workshop has also been an invaluable contribution to my pedagogical thinking. As a direct result of the workshop, I have been exploring ways to reconfigure a graduate course I am designing on the implications for environmental ethics of pataphysics (poetry that imagines itself as math and science). I met many new friends that I plan to continue communicating with about issues related to the workshop. This is a very special and unique gathering. There is nothing else like it that I can think of (I have been working on interconnections between poetry, math, and science for many years). One of the particular highlights this year was the the collaborative event (reading and panel discussion) involving participants from the BIRS workshop and the Literary Arts Writing Program. I really hope these kinds of events will continue in the future and that the BIRS writing workshop will continue to overlap (in terms of dates) with the Writing Studio. This is the second time I have been involved in this particular workshop (my first time was in 2006) and my experiences keep on getting better and more rewarding. I have published works in the past that have emerged from the workshop and I expect I will do so again in future. The work of the organizers this year (Florin Diacu and Marjorie Senechal) was first-rate. I cannot say enough about what a valuable experience this has been for me.

Adam Dickinson Department of English Language and Literature, Brock University

Great workshop, stimulating meetings with creative writers in literature program, have returned home with lots of ideas and homework to do.

Philip Holmes Program in Applied & Computational Mathematics, Princeton University

I participated in the BIRS workshop in Creative Writing in Mathematics and Science and found the experience extraordinarily helpful to my writing. It was my first serious workshop and I found that it far exceeded my expectations. The discussions were well prepared, thoughtful, wise and considerate. Though my own work was critically evaluated and the suggestions for improvements were extensive and beyond what I had anticipated, I felt a sense of benefit from the discussions. Though tough and critical, the discussions were friendly, without ego jockeying and filled with good humor and benevolent hopes for better writing for all. The organizers did a wonderful job of keeping each session on track and using the time to the benefit of improving the writing of each participant, devoting equal time and commitment to each participant. The discussions were intensely thoughtful and well meaning. Overall, the experience (including hospitality and dining) was far beyond my expectations.

Joseph Mazur Marlboro College

I just sent an email to everyone who participated in this workshop, saying that it was the most insightful, intense and exhilarating workshop that I have ever experienced. As a science writer and poet, it was exactly what I needed at this point in my career... The feedback from everyone was extremely generous and helpful, and I felt very privileged to be part of such a distinguished group of writers and scholars. I have started a new suite of poems based on our discussions (on catastrophe theory). With any luck I will have a draft ms. ready to send to my publisher in the fall. I believe that this kind of interdisciplinary discourse is truly valuable and necessary, not only for individuals like myself but for society as a whole. I congratulate and thank BIRS for supporting this wonderful initiative and I hope it continues.

Mari-Lou Rowley Humanities Research Unit, University of Saskatchewan