Syntax/Synapse: "How We Inherit" with Adam Haslett and Rebecca Brachman

Monday November 27, 2017
07:00 pm

Tags: Event



Many neuropsychiactric disorders have a hereditary element. If you have a depressed parent, you're twice as likely to experience depression. With bipolar disorder, you're four times more at risk. How does one process the idea that mental illness might be written into one's DNA?


In his National Book Award-nominated novel Imagine Me Gone, author Adam Haslett unflinchingly depicts one family's struggle with inter-generational chronic mental illness, depicting the impact despair and grief can have on those people closest to us. Haslett was joined by neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman to discuss the science behind genetic predisposition, the implications of inheriting mental illness, and what it would mean if we could “vaccinate” against depression. A pioneer in the field of preventative psychopharmacology, Brachman and her colleagues aim to create drugs which enhance psychological resilience against stress and prevent mental illness.


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. Syntax/Synapse is generously funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.



Rebecca Brachman completed her PhD at Columbia University in laboratory of Dr. René Hen, a world expert on SSRI antidepressants and the hippocampus. Prior to that, she was a fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), where she studied neuroimmunology and the stress response in the laboratory of Dr. Miles Herkenham. She obtained her bachelor's degrees from Oberlin College in Neuroscience and Creative Writing. She has previously worked in editorial, accounts, and finance at Prime Medica (a medical communications company), and served as the Interim Program Director for Outreach at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute (Columbia University). Visit her website

Adam Haslett is the author of three works of fiction: the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here, which was a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist; the novel Union Atlantic, winner of the Lambda Literary Award and shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize; and his most recent, the novel Imagine Me Gone. His books have been translated into eighteen languages, and his journalism and fiction have appeared in The Financial Times, Esquire, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The Nation, The Atlantic Monthly, and Best American Short Stories.

He has been awarded the Berlin Prize by the American Academy in Berlin, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the PEN/Malamud and PEN/Winship Awards. In 2016, he received the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. A graduate of Swarthmore College, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Yale Law School, he has been a visiting professor at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Columbia University. He lives in New York City. Visit his website