“…it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence.”
This Q & A was originally a feature of our Binders Book List bi-weekly email newsletter, in which editor Julia Phillips interviews members of the Binders community who are releasing new books. These treasured Q & A sessions are just too good to relegate to the archives, so we are now sharing them on our blog. We’re featuring Esmé Weijun Wang.
My ideal reader adores the sound of words and sentences; is not afraid to spend time with characters who may or may not resemble them in any way; is more likely to love rather than hate the “whiteness” chapter in Moby Dick; is intrigued by the promise of having complex psychological states depicted in prose. Really, though, I’m happy to have any readers at all. Come one, come all, please.
You discuss mental health in your nonfiction writing and your regular advocacy. Does your approach to the topic shift when you incorporate it into fiction?
I write about mental health issues, and in particular schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, with a great deal of specificity in my nonfiction because nonfiction seems to demand that kind of specificity. When pitching an editor, for example, using something nameable plays in my favor.
When I write about mental illness in fiction, on the other hand, I’m more likely to use descriptions of symptoms that don’t match a simple DSM diagnosis; I’m less likely to use or name a DSM diagnosis at all. In my experience, fiction seems to have more room for the gray areas of disordered thinking and behavior, which I’m thankful for because that tends to allow for a broader canvas upon which to depict the true experience of being, for lack of a better word, crazy. (“True experience,” by the by, being based on my own lived experience, as well as years of working in research psychology.) The Border of Paradise stays away from stating what, precisely, is wrong with David Nowak.
Beyond promoting your own writing, your website focuses on supporting other writers – through free courses, guided meditations, notes of encouragement and more. What motivates you to offer this kind of active support?
Being a writer, or any kind of creative, is hard – it’s important to build resilience as well as excellence – and my hope is that my offerings provide that kind of support for the community. The things I offer range from free, encouraging notes in your inbox – to workbooks about using obsessions and themes to provide creative fuel – to more high-level things, such as Rawness of Remembering, my signature program about restorative journaling. There’s something for everyone there.
Esmé Weijun Wang is an award-winning author and advocate. At esmewang.com, she provides resources that assist aspiring and working writers in developing resilience on the path to building a creative legacy. Wang’s emphasis on resilience originates from her own experiences as a writer, having learned the importance of adapting to difficult times from living with schizoaffective disorder and late-stage Lyme disease. She studied creative writing and psychology at Yale and Stanford, and received her MFA from the top-tier Creative Writing program at the University of Michigan. The author of The Border of Paradise (Unnamed Press, 2016), Wang has written for Catapult, Hazlitt, Lit Hub, Salon, and Lenny, and been written about in the New Yorker Online, Fusion, and the New York Times. She is currently, having won the 2016 Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, working on a collection of essays about schizophrenia. Find her e-letter, as well as the complimentary Creative Legacy Check-In, at esmewang.com/e-letter.
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WRITER INTERVIEW: JULIA PHILLIPS, POST EDITORS: ALICIA A. WALLACE, ANDREA GUEVARA, LEIGH STEIN