2015 was a year that shaped me.
Distilling that year sums to two major events: I sold my debut novel, The Border of Paradise (Unnamed Press), which is currently available for purchase everywhere books are sold; I was diagnosed, after several years of illness, with late-stage Lyme disease.
The beginning of my career as an emerging writer therefore dovetailed with the realization that my life was to be full of new challenges. As someone living with late-stage Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder, my life became constrained by limitations that immediately butted up against the desires of my ferociously ambitious self.
I therefore focus on three things that have come to the forefront of my mind in the last few years:
I’m a writer. My debut novel, The Border of Paradise, has received accolades and kind words from places such as LitHub, NPR Books, and the Chicago Review of Books; I was selected by Granta for their once-a-decade Best of Young American Novelists list of 21 authors under 40, and I received the prestigious Whiting Award in 2018. I write essays that have been published in the Believer, Catapult, The New Inquiry, Lenny, Hazlitt, and Salon, and have a forthcoming essay collection called The Collected Schizophrenias, which is the result of having won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize.
I believe in resilience, which forms the backbone of my work at The Unexpected Shape. My enthusiasm for both the practice and the living-out of resilience are borne out by my own daily existence with illness—I choose to live as best as I can, and I encourage others living with chronic illness and other forms of limitation to do the same. To find resources for ambitious people living with limitations, please check out The Unexpected Shape.
Legacy is a tricky beast, but I approach it from the perspective of looking at one’s impact, both big and small. Whether you think much about legacy or not, you are building your legacy every single day. Legacy can be the smile you leave on the cashier’s face when you purchase a tube of hand cream; legacy can also be the published book of your collected works.
I used to be on a children’s television show. I was “let go” from the show because I couldn’t stop laughing during one of the tapings.
I’m an INFJ, a 4 on the Enneagram, and a Gemini with a Taurus moon and a Capricorn rising.
According to the Voice Bureau’s Voice Values paradigm, my top Voice Values are Excellence, Intimacy, Legacy, and Transparency.
Though I was a class clown in high school, being a brainy kid saved me from punishment; the pinnacle of my comedic career was making it to callbacks for Yale’s oldest sketch comedy troupe, in which I spent about five minutes reciting the alphabet while pretending to withdraw a tapeworm from my mouth. And even though I’m a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I want to try stand-up comedy at least once.
A popular Taiwanese miniseries was created about my father’s family. Skeletons in the closet, ahoy!
Esmé Weijun Wang is a novelist and essayist. Her debut novel, The Border of Paradise, was called a Best Book of 2016 by NPR and one of the 25 Best Novels of 2016 by Electric Literature. She was named by Granta as one of the “Best of Young American Novelists” in 2017, won the Whiting Award in 2018, and is the recipient of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for her forthcoming essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias. Born in the Midwest to Taiwanese parents, she lives in San Francisco, and can be found at esmewang.com and on Twitter @esmewang.
To find links to articles about me and podcasts I’ve been on, as well as media-ready photographs and contact information, please visit the Press page.
Part of my work at The Unexpected Shape is to provide resources for ambitious people living with limitations to build resilience, excellence, and legacy. Tools designed to help writers and other creatives include Where’s the Electricity?, an acclaimed program about creating from obsessions and themes.
I’m also a woman who lives with chronic illness, including late-stage Lyme disease and schizoaffective disorder. These conditions create boundaries for my life; they also inspire me to guide and support others who are dealing with difficult times.Visit the Blog
"[Esmé Weijun Wang] finds light in her daily quest to help others create, despite the limitations they may face."
What is "The Unexpected Shape"
The “unexpected shape” that I refer to is the shape that our lives take when we realize the boundaries that exist around it.
Our lives can look beautiful within that shape; though discovering our limitations can be disconcerting, achieving success while living with limitations isn’t impossible.
I hope to help you here with a variety of resources: I offer a free series of emails called Encouragement Notes, as well as entry into a supportive, thriving Facebook group made up of fascinating and resilient people of all sorts. My signature online course, Rawness of Remembering, is a much-loved program that teaches the skills needed for restorative journaling through difficult times.
What kinds of things have you done?
I’m a writer and essayist—the author of the novel The Border of Paradise (2016), which was named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2016 and one of Electric Literature’s Top 25 Novels of 2016; I was selected by Granta for their once-a-decade Best of Young American Novelists list of 21 authors under 40. I have been published in places such as The Believer, Hazlitt, Lenny, Elle, Catapult, Eater, and Salon; I’ve also made appearances on NPR’s Weekend Edition, KCRW, the New York Times, the CBC, Flavorwire, and the New Yorker Online. At the moment, I’m working on The Collected Schizophrenias, a collection of essays about schizophrenia for Graywolf Press, which is the result of having won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize.
Where can I read about your experiences with limitations and doing meaningful work?
Check out some of the following essays and Journal posts, either written by me or about me:
- I’m Chronically Ill & Afraid of Being Lazy (Elle)
- Meet Smart Girl Esmé Weijun Wang: Award Winning in Writing and Compassion (Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)
- First-Time Author Overcomes Myriad Ailments and Still Finds Time to Help Others (New York Times, Women in the World)
- Creating a Healthy Writing Process When Your Health Doesn’t Want to Cooperate (Journal)
- You Are Not Lazy (Journal)