I'm a fiction/nonfiction writer and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Collected Schizophrenias, as well as The Border of Paradise
I’m a 2010 MFA graduate from the University of Michigan, and was called one of the 21 “Best of Young American Novelists” in 2017 by Granta in their once-in-a-decade list. Awards include the 2018 Whiting Award, the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, the Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction, Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress, and a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation; I have also been awarded residencies at places such as Yaddo, MacDowell, Hedgebrook, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts.
I am currently working on my third book, a novel called Soft Creatures (Riverhead). You can read more about my next two books at Entertainment Weekly.
- Perdition Days: On Experiencing Psychosis (The Toast) as featured in Longreads, the New Yorker Online, & the Knight Science Journalism at MIT blog
- On a Pathology of the Possessed (The Believer) • Notable essay in Best American Essays 2016
- Who Gets to Be the “Good Schizophrenic”? (Buzzfeed READER)
- Why My Novel Uses Untranslated Chinese (Lit Hub)
- I’m Chronically Ill and Afraid of Being Lazy (Elle)
- Chronic Uncertainty: Lessons for a Global Pandemic, From a Permanently Sick Person (The Cut)
- Mackenzie Davis Is Overwhelmed Too: Talking 2020 with the co-star of Hulu’s new lesbian holiday rom-com, Happiest Season (The Cut)
- Covid Closed Theaters. But It Also Made Them Accessible (New York Times Magazine)
For my catapult column, after a fashion
The Collected Schizophrenias
An intimate, moving book written with the immediacy and directness of one who still struggles with the effects of mental and chronic illness, The Collected Schizophrenias cuts right to the core. Schizophrenia is not a single unifying diagnosis, and Esmé Weijun Wang writes not just to her fellow members of the “collected schizophrenias” but to those who wish to understand it as well. Opening with the journey toward her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, Wang discusses the medical community’s own disagreement about labels and procedures for diagnosing those with mental illness, and then follows an arc that examines the manifestations of schizophrenia in her life. In essays that range from using fashion to present as high-functioning to the depths of a rare form of psychosis, and from the failures of the higher education system and the dangers of institutionalization to the complexity of compounding factors such as PTSD and Lyme disease, Wang’s analytical eye, honed as a former lab researcher at Stanford, allows her to balance research with personal narrative. An essay collection of undeniable power, The Collected Schizophrenias dispels misconceptions and provides insight into a condition long misunderstood.
New York Times Bestseller
Northern California Book Award for Creative Nonfiction
Longlisted for PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
50 Most Anticipated Books of 2019 (Entertainment Weekly)
February 2019 Indie Next List
Glamour’s Best Books of 2019
25 Best Memoirs of the 2010’s (Paste)
TIME’s Best Books of 2019
Best Books of 2019 (Shelf Awareness)
Lit Hub’s 50 Favorite Books of 2019
10 Best Books of 2019 (Pitt News)
Best Audio Books of 2019: Essay Collections (Audible)
Best Books of 2019 (People)
Best Books of 2019 (Buzz Feed)
Most Anticipated Books of 2019 (Vogue)
Whiting Award for Nonfiction
The New York Times Editors’ Choice
20 Must-Read Best Essay Collections of 2019 (Book Riot)
Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2019 (Nonfiction)
TIME’s Best 10 Nonfiction Books of 2019
NPR’s Best Books of 2019
Best Books of 2019 (Variety)
Best Nonfiction of 2019 (Electric Literature)
Best Memoirs of 2019 (Chicago Tribune)
Best Nonfiction of 2019 (Entropy)
CBC Radio’s (Canada) Best International Books of 2019
Favorite Books of 2019 (Smithsonian)
“[An] utterly unique book of essays: a deep, illuminating, and explosively written dive into a life of living with mental illness.”
“[Wang’s] elegant essays are strongest at their most personal — when she writes, with clinical precision, about what it feels like to believe that she’s dead, or to slip the boundary between our world and a sci-fi movie on TV — but they also confront major questions about psychiatric care with meticulous even-handedness.”
“The Collected Schizophrenias is riveting, honest, and courageously allows for complexities in the reality of what living with illness is like―and we are lucky to have it in the world.”
“In Wang’s kaleidoscopic essays, memoir has been shattered into sliding and overlapping pieces so that the story of her life subtly shifts from essay to essay. The images and insights Wang summons from these shards are sometimes frustrating, but often dazzling, and worth the reconstructive work.”
“Esmé Weijun Wang is poised to become a major writer, and this is her origin story.”
“Going beyond her personal story, Wang applies her experience as a former lab researcher at Stanford to add an analytical perspective to The Collected Schizophrenias, which gives readers an inside look into the often-misunderstood intricacies of mental health.”
“[The Collected Schizophrenias is] resoundingly intelligent, often unexpectedly funny, questioning, fearless and peerless, as Wang makes for brilliant company on 13 difficult walks through largely uncharted territory.”
“Wang is a brilliant writer… This intimate essay collection grapples with her diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and all the sorrow and searching that comes with it. Always artful and illuminating, never facile.”
The Border of Paradise
In booming postwar Brooklyn, the Nowak Piano Company is an American success story. There is just one problem: the Nowak’s only son, David. A handsome kid and shy like his mother, David struggles with neuroses. If not for his only friend, Marianne, David’s life would be intolerable. When David inherits the piano company at just 18 and Marianne breaks things off, David sells the company and travels around the world. In Taiwan, his life changes when he meets the daughter of a local madame — beautiful, sharp-tongued Daisy. Returning to the United States, the couple (and newborn son) buy an isolated country house in Northern California’s Polk Valley.
As David’s mental health deteriorates, he has a brief affair with Marianne, producing a daughter. When Marianne appears at their doorstep, the couple’s fateful decision to take the child as their own determines a tragic course of events for the entire family. Told from multiple perspectives, The Border of Paradise culminates in heartrending fashion, as the young heirs to the Nowak fortune must confront their past and the tragic reality of their future.
Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2017
Best Books of 2016 (NPR)
25 Best Novels of 2016 (Electric Literature)
100 Must-read Debut Novels (Bookriot)
The Best Books of April 2016 (Bookriot)
Top Spring 2016 Indie Fiction (Library Journal)
April’s 10 Best Books from Independent Presses (Chicago Review of Books)
18 Books you should read this April (Literary Hub)
Five Books by Women Everyone should read this summer (PAPERMAG)
Mid-Year Best of 2016 (Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Powell’s
“…Deeply generous and sharply funny, and the characters, idiosyncratic as they are, seem like real people; I kept being reminded of both Marilynne Robinson and Nabokov, an unlikely pairing.”
“The Border of Paradise is shaped by darkness and the kind of delicious story that makes for missed train stops and bedtimes, keeping a reader up late for just one more page of dynamic character-bouncing perspective… It is the author’s stunning introduction to the literary world.”
“Gothic in tone, epic in ambition, and creepy in spades.”
“Wang’s prose is beautiful and restrained, and her generous, precise characterization makes every perspective feel organic and utterly real in the face of increasingly theatrical circumstances. The result — the story of an American family stretched and manipulated into impossible shapes — is an extraordinary literary and gothic novel of the highest order.”
“The writing is mesmerizing and the story so real, so true, so full of heart that it broke mine in a kerjillion different ways. This is a dazzling, exquisite debut novel. A lesser writer wouldn’t have been able to pull off the kaleidoscope of perspectives that bring this complex story to life, but Wang is a master… Sub-motherfucking-lime.”
“A skillfully wrought, multigenerational tale of family, love, isolation, and mental illness.”
“Esmé Weijun Wang’s debut novel, The Border of Paradise, is an intricately woven, gothic family saga that examines the legacies of decisions and indecisions made long ago. David Nowak, heir to the Nowak Piano Company, abandons his old life in Brooklyn following the end of his relationship with his first love, Marianne. He moves to Taiwan, where he meets Daisy, the intelligent, crafty daughter of a local madame, and makes her his bride. But David’s deteriorating mental health and the isolated life they choose to make after moving back to America lead to a gradually narrowing world for their children, William and Gillian, who are forced to carve out their own path in a world they only barely recognize.”
“In the hands of a lesser novelist this baroque, otherworldly story would come off as dizzyingly maudlin, but in Wang’s extraordinarily assured multivocal prose it transcends genre to become an unforgettable gothic classic that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.”
“Wang takes Ahab’s rant of…’madness maddened’ and infuses it through all of the characters in this book, not just the ones who are identified as crazy. A terrifying look at dysfunction, manipulation, and psychological torture and love, yes love. A very deftly written first novel.”
“Touching on mental health, family drama, and human tragedy, The Border of Paradise is a moving and beautiful book.”
“The portrayal of the emotional and psychological trauma experienced on some level by every character that drives the narrative is profound, unflinching, and merciless. …The writer’s sensitivity, not only in the exquisite detail of her descriptions, the psychic acuity of her observations, but also in her masterfully clear-sighted—and yes, merciless—empathy with each of her characters, no matter how desperate or misguided their actions, was a privilege to encounter.”
“Adam knew Eve, and she conceived. I remember a sense of prisoned, predictable security at this, reading and knowing what would happen next. A knowing and a desire for control that Wang’s book throws up in fire.”
“Beautifully and meticulously written, The Border of Paradise‘s progression is at turns shocking and devastating. But the book is respectful and reverent to its characters, and perhaps succeeds most at giving careful renderings of their unique psychologies.”
I’ve never known a man who has taken his own life, and so I’ve never read a suicide letter, seeing as how the final words of such uncelebrated and self-condemned souls are so privately guarded. Still, I can’t help but think such letters all must be the same, because what else can be said but, over and over again, Sorry, sorry, I am so sorry, in the way that someone newly smitten can only say, I love you, I love you, I love you, like one of the Wellbrook patients I grew accustomed to in my incarcerations. In particular I am thinking of a schizophrenic woman with chin-length, ashen hair, stooped in her wheelchair, who repeated the word plum, such that the hum of that word faded into the background of everything, including the screams of other patients, the soft rush of water, plum, puh-lum, until the word shed its meaning, becoming nothing but sound.
This motel room is not as depressing as I thought it would be. Someone has taken pains to make the place palatable; I have yet to see a cockroach. Only one or two flies the size of kidney beans occasionally dive-bomb the air. The bed’s comforter itches, but is printed with an assortment of nice English roses. Note that a man conflicted about his suicide will reflexively stop and smell the proverbial roses. The cheap blue curtains let the light through, and when I first walked to the window to pull them shut I saw that one of them had been carefully stitched near the edge, where I’m assuming it was once torn, and in the end I take this all to mean that this place is as good as any to die. I didn’t want to end things anywhere near the house, where my wife could find me—or, even more horrible to consider, my children. If I had my way, I’d hang myself peacefully from one of the trees in our wood, but that seems more blasphemous than this, somehow, and I’m grateful to this humble little Motel Ponderosa of no significance, which is a small grace.
I had breakfast this morning miles from here with my son, William; my daughter, Gillian; and Daisy, who is my wife. We had bacon, and fry bread cooked in the grease, and eggs fried in whatever grease was left. I watched William sop up the yolk with a crust of bread. I watched Gillian scrape her plate, her hair in a little topknot tied with a red velvet ribbon. I watched Daisy, whose face in the light was worn smooth like a rock under the same persistent current of worry. Click, click, click, I thought, committing them to memory to be preserved and then destroyed, because even in my moribund state I could see the simple beauty of it, and silently I asked the Lord to bless my family, even if neither he nor they will ever forgive me for my desertion. Those three were persistently beset by trouble, and worse, they still loved me; so how this can be anything but a betrayal and an unfairness, I don’t know.
I’ve been returning to The Confessions more than to the Bible these days, but it’s become difficult to understand what I mean to accomplish through any style of confession. I have sinned, and I had hoped to expose and atone for my sins. I hoped to cast them out, as Christ cast the demons into swine, so that the Lord might take pity on my soul—this, despite the saying that God never gives a person more than he can handle—but what about despair? For so many years I have thought I ought to be able to handle this, and the only refrain that returned to me was I’m in pain, I’m in pain, I’m in pain. “Spare Thy servant from the power of the enemy,” said Augustine. And yet Augustine achieved sainthood, an achievement for which not even I am insane enough to dream.
For a deeper look inside the book, see the Look Inside feature on Amazon.
“A stunning meditation on the meaning of marriage, the limits of language, and the inescapable solitude of the mind. Esmé Weijun Wang’s writing is spellbinding; her characters are hauntingly alive.”
“The Border of Paradise is a magnificent achievement—an exhortation for human tenderness and individual dignity in the most difficult of circumstances. Wang explores identity and family with a sense of drama that borders on gothic, without ever sacrificing the psychological texture that connects us to her characters.”