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); I was diagnosed, after several years of illness, with late-stage Lyme disease—a diagnosis that I would later question, but that seemed to explain the extreme physical symptoms that I was suffering, and would continue to suffer for many years.
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 chronic illness 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: creativity, resilience, and legacy.
I’m a writer. In February 2019, Graywolf Press published my essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias, which became a New York Times bestseller; the Los Angeles Review of Books stated that “Esmé Weijun Wang is poised to become a major writer, and this is her origin story.” 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 believe in resilience. 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 writers living with limitations, please check out the Shop.
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.
Karaoke is one of my greatest joys.
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. She is the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection, The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), and a debut novel, The Border of Paradise. She was named by Granta as one of the “Best of Young American Novelists” on its decennial list in 2017 and won the Whiting Award in 2018. Born in the Midwest to Taiwanese parents, she is the founder of The Unexpected Shape™ Writing Academy for ambitious writers living with limitations. She can be found at esmewang.com and on Twitter @esmewang.
Part of my work is to provide resources for ambitious writers living with limitations to build resilience, excellence, and legacy. I’ve created online courses such as Rawness of Remembering: Restorative Journaling Through Difficult Times, as well as Dream Hunting with Limitations. I teach live workshops online about writing fiction and nonfiction, in addition to writing workshops in person all over the country.
In addition to this, I’m a woman who lives with chronic illness, including physical and mental illness (which I write about in The Collected Schizophrenias). These conditions create boundaries for my life; they also inspire me to guide and support others who are dealing with difficult times.
"[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 series of emails called Encouragement Notes, which are encouraging and uplifting and totally free of charge. You can also find me as the founder of The Unexpected Shape™ Writing Academy, my signature 3-month writing school where I teach workshops and provide community, office hours, and other resources for ambitious writers living with limitations such as disability and chronic illness. To dig in further to my work for ambitious people living with limitations, I recommend exploring The Shop.
What kinds of things have you done?
I’m a writer and essayist—the author of the New York Times-bestselling essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), as well as 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 the Today Show, NPR’s Weekend Edition, KCRW, the New York Times, the CBC, Flavorwire, and the New Yorker Online.
Check out some of the following essays, 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)
How can I get in touch?