A finalist for the Believer Book Award
Emerson Whitney writes, “Really, I can’t explain myself without making a mess.” What follows is that mess—electrifying, gorgeous, defiant.
At Heaven’s center, Whitney seeks to understand their relationship to their mother and grandmother, those first windows into womanhood and all its consequences. Whitney retraces a roving youth in deeply observant, psychedelic prose—all the while folding in the work of thinkers like Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and C. Riley Snorton—to engage transness and the breathing, morphing nature of selfhood.
An expansive examination of what makes us up, Heaven wonders what role our childhood plays in who we are. Can we escape the discussion of causality? Is the story of our body just ours? With extraordinary emotional force, Whitney sways between theory and memory in order to explore these brazen questions and write this unforgettable book.
Read exclusive excerpts from Heaven published by The Cut and The Paris Review.
Praise for Heaven
Named a best book by Kirkus, Bomb, the AV Club, PAPER, Literary Hub, Refinery29, Ms. Magazine, Chicago Review of Books, the Observer, and the Seattle Times.
“Whitney achieves what often feels too difficult to do when writing about family—an honesty born not in spite of love, but because of it.”
“Whitney stands as a deft executor of their own unique style … a writer who guides with an intuitive vulnerability and honesty.”
—The Paris Review
“An incisive, nuanced inquiry into gender and body.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Melodic and engagingly written, Heaven will enrapture anyone who loves reading for beauty and intellectual challenge at once.”
“Whitney asks us to think about what we are underneath false binaries and the performance of self.”
—The Seattle Times
“Emerson Whitney’s first prose book is a frank and absorbing examination of transness, brokenness, mothering, femininity, embodiment and truth.”
“(W)hat Heaven does best is capture the disorienting pull of unsettling childhood memories—at once incomplete and terribly weighted.”
One of the Observer’s Best Books of Spring
“Heaven is an unflinching personal examination of family and identity, bearing witness to what it means to live life on one’s own terms.”
“A gripping memoir whose sentences are akin to a skipped heartbeat”
“(U)tterly hypnotic… a gorgeous book that feels like a painting”
—The Seattle Times
“Whitney weaves (the) various strands into a powerful, ground-breaking account of growing up and figuring out one’s relationship to oneself and the world.”
“Heaven delves into deep memory and deep thinking to offer an ‘account of oneself’ that questions, if not upends, the very idea of such a thing at every turn. The result is a poetic, candid, probing reckoning with childhood, the maternal, gender, and the possibilities of theory which will both speak to its time and outlast it.”
—Maggie Nelson, author Bluets and The Argonauts
“Emerson has written a story about Mommy and me but mainly they’re extending to us a forceful act of writing in defense of the self that is taking pictures, running away—eyes full of tears, then pirouetting, and standing their ground to tell us this colossally wonderful and woefully broken story”
—Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls and I Must Be Living Twice
“Heaven is the book of deepest affections, a harrowing book, a bewitched book. Composed in a style of a bird-nest, Heaven weaves together multiple threads of conversation with self and with brilliant voices of others, as different as Lacan and Jos Charles, Allen Ginsberg and Michael Ondaatje. One can’t help but be moved by this compelling record, this book of hours for pain made utterly beautiful by its author’s patient meditation on childhood and gender, motherhood and sorrow.”
—Ilya Kaminksy, author of Deaf Republic
“Heaven goes down like a strong elixir… I can still feel its heat swirling through me.”
—Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart and Abandon Me
“Heaven, although prose, is poetry. The language is tender and present. The word performs connection and recovery… Theory from such thinkers as Butler, Foucault, Freud, Haraway, Irigaray, and Lacan are broken down to its lived practical parts and brought back into common parlance, brought in relation to the etymology that is Whitney’s becoming.”
—Arisa White, author of You’re The Most Beautiful Thing That Happened
“Elegantly poetic, beautiful, brutal, and wise… Heaven is a wonder.”
—Michelle Tea, author of Valencia and Modern Tarot
“Someone asked me recently if I ever imagine writing from today that has the strength to remain in print centuries from now. ‘Yes, I do,’ I said, and told them about a book by Emerson Whitney called Heaven. Every page is beautifully written, pitch-perfect harrowing, but maybe more important is how it changes many things we thought we understood about life. Hundreds of years from now, readers can better appreciate this time and this nation through Emerson Whitney’s extraordinary lens, where they write, ‘The history of categorization around disability in the United States was always about social control.’”
—CAConrad, author of While Standing in Line for Death
“Exploring and exploding gender, language, desire, this book is necessary reading for anyone who’s used language, who has had a mother, who has a body at all.”
—Sam Sax, author of Madness