Born in MI. Education: Attended Yale University and Stanford University; University of Michigan, M.F.A.
Writer and mental health advocate. Has also worked as a research scientist.
Sudler Award; Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress; Elizabeth George Foundation Grant; Graywolf Nonfiction Prize for essays, 2016; Whiting Award, 2018.
- The Border of Paradise: A Novel, Unnamed Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2016.
Author of the nonfiction chapbook Light Gets In: Living Well with Mental Illness. Contributor to periodicals, including Catapult, Hazlitt, Lit Hub, Salon, and Lenny.
Esmé Weijun Wang has written several articles and essays about her struggles with mental illness, and she has also written about the added challenges of late-stage Lyme disease. The former informs Wang's debut work, The Border of Paradise: A Novel, which portrays mentally ill protagonist David Nowak. The suicidal hero reflects on his childhood and then on his youth in Brooklyn. While living there and struggling with depression, David nurses a crush for his neighbor, Marianne. David and Marianne begin dating, but the relationship falls apart when David inherits his father's piano business. Rather than take over the company, David decides to sell it and continue drifting, and Marianne leaves him after he does so. David is only twenty at the time, so he travels around the world with the help of his inheritance. In Taiwan, he meets and marries a bar waitress named Jia-Hui Chen, though David calls her Daisy. From there, Daisy reflects on their tumultuous marriage, charting David's devolving emotional states. The couple has a son named William, and the tale switches to his point of view when he becomes a teenager, a boy suffering from the same emotional turmoil that plagues his father.
Wang remarked on her approach to the novel in an online Fusion interview, explaining: "I was going to write one book from one person's perspective, and then the next book would be the exact same story but from another person's perspective. ... I was interested in this question of what is it like to look at the world in different ways because you're a different person." She added: "In terms of The Border of Paradise, I did not sit down and figure out how to make this complicated dynamic in which one person sees something in one way, and then another character interprets that. I think I ended up just really getting into character. I ended up having lots of dreams about being the different characters. I would wake up and realize, wow, I just had an entire dream in which I was Gillian. It was really fun for me to have these different voices and put on these different hats."
Commenting on the intersections between Wang's life and her fiction, Alli Maloney in the New York Times reported that the author "cannot remember a time when it [mental illness] did not impact her life and work. Effects started showing at a young age: depression and anxiety by puberty, bipolar disorder just after graduating from high school, a diagnosis that shifted to bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder in her late 20s and plenty of hospitalizations throughout. After completing Paradise she began penning essays that detail living with a psychotic disorder and the mixed reactions she has received when explaining her diagnosis." Maloney added: "Her own various diagnoses and years spent conducting clinical interviews as a research scientist shaped scenes within the book."
Lauding the result in Kirkus Reviews, a critic advised: "More focused on psychology than plot, Wang's novel remains extraordinarily unresolved, with sudden brutalities that send the story haring toward an unexpected, abrupt ending. Gothic in tone, epic in ambition, and creepy in spades." Carmen Maria Machado, writing for NPR Online, was equally laudatory, and she found that "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."
FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
- Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2016, review of The Border of Paradise: A Novel.
- New York Times, April 20, 2016, Alli Maloney, "Crossing Borders."
- EsméWeijun Wang Home Page, http://esmewang.com (October 25, 2016).
- Fusion, http://fusion.net/ (April 11, 2016), author interview.
- NPR Online, http://www.npr.org/ (April 14, 2016), Carmen Maria Machado, review of The Border of Paradise.*