In early February, award-winning novelist and essayist Esmé Weijun Wang took up an exciting new post at San Jose State. As the 2021 Distinguished Visiting Author in Residence, Wang was then preparing to helm a writing workshop for students of the university’s MFA program.
“I’m so nervous that the muscles at my jaw joints are pebble-hard and aching,” she wrote on Instagram. Whether chronicling her life online or in print, Wang writes with refreshing and visceral candor.
Six weeks later, the professor’s feedback is glowing.
“I love being able to teach a cross-section of people living in San Jose,” she enthuses to Metro, noting the cohort’s diversity of ages, genders and ethnicities. The program hosts students writing in multiple genres, including a concentration in creative nonfiction. It’s a fitting locale for the author: following the success of bestselling essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias, she is currently at work on her second novel.
This Friday, Wang gives a live reading at the SJSU Student Union Theatre as part of San Jose’s Center for Literary Arts reading series.
Born in the Midwest, Wang passed her formative years locally: “I grew up in San Jose and its surrounding areas,” she states. “I really loved some elements of it.” She recalls weekend trips to Cupertino Village to dine on her family’s favorite dishes and grocery shop in markets that sold the Taiwanese staples of her youth.
While these resonant spaces were essential to Wang’s sense of belonging, as a teenager, she broadened her circle via a Livejournal blog and the adjacent zine scene.
“Because of my participation in those communities, I was able to learn so much more about subjects that weren’t commonly discussed or brought up in my hometown,” Wang reflects.
Wang lives with schizoaffective disorder and late-stage Lyme disease. Equipped with first-hand knowledge, she launched The Unexpected Shape Writing Community, a virtual gathering of creatives who aim to work with—not against—long-term limitations, such as chronic or mental illness. Recently, one participant credited The Unexpected Shape with transforming her self-confidence, as well as her vision of herself as a person with limitations who could pursue goals and dreams.
“That was very heartening to see,” Wang reflects, “and it’s indicative of why such spaces are so necessary.”
Fri, 7pm, Free
Student Union Theatre, San Jose State
Event also streaming online at: clasanjose.org