By trade, Alan Lightman is a physicist, but he has traversed that tricky space between science and the humanities and has written award-winning novels.
His 1992 novel "Einstein’s Dreams" is an international bestseller. Along with having been translated into thirty languages, artists have adapted it into plays, dances, musical compositions, and paintings. It is also an educational tool and can be found in university classrooms across the globe.
Another one of his novels, "The Diagnosis," was a National Book Award finalist.
Lightman began his academic career at Harvard University as an assistant professor in astronomy and also worked as an astrophysicist. In 1989, he moved to MIT's faculty. There, he was the first professor to ever hold a joint science-humanities professorship. Today, he is a professor of the humanities and was responsible for integrating writing requirements into MIT's curriculum.
His new memoir "Screening Room: Family Pictures" does not follow the whimsies of Einstein but instead focuses on Lightman’s family in Memphis from the 1930s into the 60s. It traces his family history through its movie theater business and the fantastical ghost presence of the family’s supreme patriarch–Alan’s grandfather–M.A. Lightman.
In his memoir, he uses Memphis not only as a setting for his new memoir but also as a character. Its heat, its music, particularly on Beale Street, move side-by-side with the characters. He began the interview by reading a passage from the memoir, describing the grandeur of the movies.
Tonight at 7:00 p.m., Lightman will be talking about his memoir and more at the Margaret Mitchell House.