The Paris Review

Schizophrenia Terrifies: An Interview with Esmé Weijun Wang

Esmé Weijun Wang’s first book was a novel, The Border of Paradise. It was a multifaceted epic about family, migration, language, and mental illness, for which she was named one of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists in 2017. Her second book, out this week, is a collection of essays. The Collected Schizophrenias (read an excerpt here) examines schizophrenia from historical, medical, social, and emotional perspectives, and looks at the myriad ways it is misunderstood, including by the psychiatric community and schizophrenics themselves.

This nonfiction project has been acclaimed since long before publication: in 2016 the manuscript-in-progress won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, and in 2018 Wang was awarded a Whiting Award for nonfiction, the committee noting that she “sends out revelatory dispatches from an under-mapped land, shot like arrows in all directions from a taut bow of a mind.” Her prose is precise and lyrical at the same time. She is equally comfortable in the realms of science and spirituality. She provides personal documentation of experiences that, almost by definition, seem to erase the possibility of doing so.

Wang was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder eight years after experiencing her first hallucinations. She recounts those intervening eight years of confusion in the first essay in the book, laying out the changes in the DSM. (“Changes in the bible of psychiatry continue to affect people’s lives,” she writes.) But an accurate

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