Columbia University in the City of New York

Alan Kanzer Writer-in-Residence

Above: Best-selling author Claire Messud (Credit: Lucian Wood)

An exploration of science through narrative and storytelling

The Alan Kanzer Writer-in-Residence program engages writers and scientists at the intersection of narrative and neuroscience. The residency gives one writer per year time and support for creative pursuit, forges formal and informal interactions with scientists, and promotes engagement across the Institute and the surrounding community. By the end of the residency, the writer, the scientists, and members of the wider community benefit from access to new knowledge and perspectives from these cross-disciplinary activities.


Author Claire Messud (The Emperor's Children, The Woman Upstairs, The Burning Girl) joins Columbia's Zuckerman Institute in 2022 as the Alan Kanzer Writer-in-Residence. During her residency, Claire Messud is interested in considering the role of sensory detail in memory, and in creating fictional worlds. How might we approach and understand the difference between literarily lived and literally lived experiences? How are imaginary experiences mediated through language and created in the reader’s brain different from those seen in images (film, video), or again, from those experienced bodily? Are some senses, such as smell and taste, “stickier” than others? How might different points of view – first person vs third person, subjective vs omniscient – affect the brain’s apprehension of information? How does language determine narrative, and how does narrative create – and alter – memory, individually and culturally? In conversations, both formal and informal, with scientists at the Institute, she is eager to learn more about the ways narratives (fictional and non-fictional both) shape our understanding, and how, in turn, diction and sensory detail shape narrative. She joins a number of other artists and musicians past and present at the Institute who have contributed to this intersection of creative pursuit and scientific knowledge.


About Claire Messud


Claire Messud has been hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "a novelist of unnerving talent." She is the author of eight books, including the international bestseller The Emperor's Children, which was a New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post Best Book of the Year and won the Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction. Her first novel, When The World Was Steady, and her book of novellas, The Hunters, were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her second novel, The Last Life, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, Editor's Choice at The Village Voice and won Britain's Encore Award for Best Second Novel. Her fifth novel, The Woman Upstairs, was a Boston Globe Best Book of the Year. Her most recent novel, The Burning Girl, was a New York Times bestseller, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and named one of the best books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, NPR and others.


She was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute and the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, as well as the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She teaches creative writing at Harvard University, where she founded a literary reading series, Writers Speak, which she ran from 2015-2021. A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review, she currently writes a monthly books column for Harper’s magazine and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.


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Claire Messud's residency is hosted by Daphna Shohamy, PhD, Kavli Professor of Brain Science, PI and Co-director of the Kavli Institute for Brain Science, and Associate Director of Columbia's Zuckerman Institute. If you have questions about the program or would like to meet with Ms. Messud during her residency, please contact [email protected].


This program is made possible with the generous support of Alan Kanzer. Columbia University's School of the Arts and Zuckerman Institute are grateful to Mr. Kanzer for his generosity and commitment to fostering interactions between the arts and neuroscience. The previous, inaugural Alan Kanzer Writer-in-Residence was best-selling author Nicole Krauss (To Be a Man, Forest Dark, The History of Love), who delved deep into the scientific underpinnings of mind, memory and behavior during her 2020-21 residency.

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