Storytellers

Taylor McGowin Beck; The Pierrepont School, Westport, CT

I'm a writer, a teacher, and a former neuroscience researcher. My journalism and essays cover mental illness, genetics, and the history of science, and have appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the L.A. Review of Books, Scientific American, and other places. My brain imaging work was on memory, sleep, and dreaming; the labs where I worked used machine learning to decode patterns from fMRI. Nowadays, my white whale is lithium: How does it work? What does it correct? How does the racing mind of mania lead not just to suffering, as it so often does untreated, but also to creativity, from Virginia Woolf to Kanye West? What can lithium teach us about genetics and personality? I live in Brooklyn, and teach 8 to 18 year old students Science, English and a class called The Trivium on logic, rhetoric, and grammar.

Ada Brunstein

I am Editor in Chief of Reference at a university press, where I manage an editorial team working in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. My editorial work focuses on neuroscience, psychology, and global health, and my academic background is in linguistics and science writing. I am a freelance writer with an interest in exploring dance through a scientific lens. My essays and articles have appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Technology Review. http://adabrunstein.com/

Abeer Y. Hoque

I'm a Nigerian born Bangladeshi American writer and photographer. My books include a monograph of travel photographs and poems (The Long Way Home, 2013), a collection of linked stories, photographs, and poems (The Lovers and the Leavers, 2015), and a memoir (Olive Witch, 2017). I am currently working on a screenplay, a chapbook of photographs and poems, and a novel about memory loss. See more at olivewitch.com.


1. What are you most looking forward to at DISI?

I am looking forward to the breadth and depth of scholarship on intelligence and the mind, to be fully immersed and overwhelmed by subjects I have great interest in but not that much experience or know-how. I’m excited to meet smart thoughtful scholars and artists and make new friends.

2. What is your expertise? What could you contribute to a project?

I am a writer and photographer (and would happily contribute any of those skills). My main themes include belonging, identity, place, family, race, and ambition. I often combine/mash up genres (always poetry, and sometimes combining photography and text) because the translation of ideas and emotions and landscape between/across genres feels closer to life than staying within any one art. I had a former life in business (information design and online consumer behavior) and still keep up with analyzing and editing web content and streamlining site navigation. I am an excellent editor in multiple domains.

3. What are you most eager to learn about at DISI?

One of my projects (9 years in the writing so far) is a novel about memory loss. I’ve read books on neuropsychology and medicine, family guides for dementia and addiction, memoirs, biographies, and of course literature in which memory loss is lever, crux, mystery, salvation. I’m obsessed with what makes a person a person, if not memory alone. Thus I’m eager for any and all knowledge I can absorb about these, and perhaps then embark on a final draft of said novel.

4. Now that you are here, describe one collaborative project you’d like to pursue (1-2 sentences)

I would love to be a secondary creative input on someone’s proposed project - perhaps writing poetry or prose or providing photographs inspired by someone’s art or academic work.

Mallessa (Les) James; Goddard College, Vermont

I am currently in an individualized graduate program working on a multimedia project that explores ideas about emergent levels of nature and cognition. My work is a playful synthesis of my academic background in biology, organizational psychology, and learning sciences, as well as my creative background in writing, photography, and design.

Laura Sydell; NPR

I am currently a contributing correspondent to NPR. For the last 16 years I’ve been NPR’s Digital Culture Correspondent reporting on the impact of technology on society, culture and daily life for its signature news magazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. I have also been a contributor to This American Life and Planet Money. Right now, I am doing research for a book that looks at the ways that artists and criminals use emerging technologies and how they can help us gauge the ways these technologies will be used in the future. The book idea came out of words of cyber punk pioneer and author of the prescient sci fi novel Neuromancer, William Gibson, who told me that he never listens to tech experts talk about the future of technology. “But give me a room full of artists and criminals playing with an emerging technology, and I’ve got it. I’ve made my lunch.” I am particularly interested in the role of intuition and imagination in science and engineering and whether artificial intelligence will ever make “intuitive leaps.” Learn more about me at https://www.laurasydell.com.

I-Han (Angel) Teng; Film Directing Program, School of Film/Video, California Institute of the Arts

Born and raised in Taiwan. I am a filmmaker with a Master’s in psychology. I also specialize in sound as a recording and mixing engineer.

I’ve written a feature film about how two same-sex couples collaborate to have their own babies, which was co-produced by UK and Taiwan film production companies.

My subject matter is human nature, especially on the complexity of the human mind and irrational emotions. I am deeply connected with social issue-based stories and future imagining as well.

I am engaged in creating works through various processes and formats, such as working with choreographers or making soundscape pieces for VR projects.

Amey Yun Zhang

I use multimedia storytelling and science communication to explore our relationship with the natural world. I am interested in how scientific information influences our cultural understanding of who we are, and how those narratives shape the futures we build. My background is in evolutionary biology, ecology, art, and design, and I was most recently a research fellow in comparative cognition working with fish and kea at The University of Auckland Animal Minds Lab.

Some of my work at: www.ameyyzhang.com