ISBN-10: 0998267538
ISBN-13: 9780998267531
Publisher: Public Space Books
Publish Date: 01/12/2021
Dimensions: 8.25" L, 5.45" W, 0.75" H


Introduction by: Yiyun Li


Price: $26.00


An extraordinary portrait of a brilliant mind on the brink: A new edition of the 1974 memoir by the author of the acclaimed collection Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. With an introduction by Yiyun Li.

“For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin–real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business; time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life could begin. At last it had dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

From the author of the acclaimed collection Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage comes W-3, the account of a brilliant mind on the brink. In 1968, Bette Howland was thirty-one, a single mother of two young sons, struggling to support her family on the part-time salary of a librarian; and laboring day and night at her typewriter to be a writer. One afternoon, while staying at her friend Saul Bellow’s apartment, she swallowed a bottle of pills. W-3 is both an extraordinary portrait of the community of Ward 3, the psychiatric wing of the Chicago hospital where she was admitted; and record of a defining moment in a writer’s life. The book itself would be her salvation: she wrote herself out of the grave.

First published in 1974, the memoir that launched Bette Howland’s career is being reissued as part of A Public Space’s ongoing revival of “one of the significant writers of her generation.” (Saul Bellow) With a new introduction by Yiyun Li.

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An Editors' Pick from the New York Times, AV Club, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Literary North.

A portrayal of mental illness like none other. More claustrophobic than Girl, Interrupted and more frightening than The Bell Jar, Howland's memoir maps the world of a 1960s psychiatric ward with an unflinching eye.
Esmé Weijun Wang

One of the significant writers of her generation.
Saul Bellow

Looking to read a memoir? W-3 by Bette Howland is well worth the price of admission.... Not for the faint of heart, this is a beautiful book about writing your way out of real darkness. It's brilliant. And after you read it, you won't be able to stop yourself from devouring her strange and wonderful short story collection, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage.
192 Books

A story about her neighbor's heart, not her own–an anthology of the lives she encounters in the ward known as W-3. [Howland tells] the story of a collective with blunt clarity, and sidestepping the genre's potential for sentimentality or sensationalism. She brings the particularities of the world to life.
Parul Sehgal, the New York Times

The power and poignancy of W-3 lies in its contradictions. It offers us a portal to a particular time and place, yet the compassion and truthfulness that underlies the writing renders it timeless, as urgent a read now as when it was first written nearly half a century ago.
Lucy Scholes, the Paris Review

"Dazzlingly and daringly written."

The Guardian

"A Writer of terrifying power, who sees and hears everything...Not only is this a sane memoir of madness but it may well be the sanest, most mordant take on the subject."

Frances Wilson, Daily Telegraph

In forms I've never seen before, in ways that feel revelatory and imperative to the work we might all be trying to make next, [Howland] shows how an I can also exist within a collective; how, for some communities, constantly subverting one's own wants and needs is simply necessary in order that the group survive.
Lynn Steger Strong, Los Angeles Times

Full of calibrated grace, and startlingly unmediated...[W-3] is remarkably perceptive and wise.
Katy Waldman, the New Yorker

Howland is rather like a chameleon, and her insights and questions are intimate but also have a universal quality.... A mysteriously talented writer, her innovative work fortunately has been revived so that Howland will have the attention she deserved, even though she did not seek it in her life.
the National Book Review

A gallery of marvelously, devastatingly precise miniatures of Howland's fellow inmates. Howland's eye for detail is unfailingly sharp. She has the cartoonist's knack of seizing and drawing out a person's specific mannerisms and fixations, but what results is never caricature; rather, her depiction of the patients of W-3 is sensitive and sympathetic but powerfully unsentimental.
Sarah Chihaya, Bookforum

Like certain other writers on the edge of the canon–Jean Rhys, Elizabeth Smart, Tove Ditlevsen–Bette Howland wrote with an urgent dissatisfaction and narrative reluctance that make her work... unforgettable.
–Julie Phillips, 4Columns

Style is a great preservative in literature and the quality that Bette Howland's... writing possess[es] in abundance, and the reason [her] work has proved worth preserving.

–Joseph Epstein, Commentary

In W-3, Howland's unforgiving descriptions disallow the reader from moving unfeelingly through the psychiatric ward where she witnessed so much. In that hardness there is recognition, and in that recognition, compassion. Howland's writing demands the same recognition, even if, like her, it had to be lost before it could be found.

–Sage Behr, South Side Weekly

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ISBN-10: 0998267538
ISBN-13: 9780998267531
Publisher: Public Space Books
Publish Date: 01/12/2021
Dimensions: 8.25" L, 5.45" W, 0.75" H
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