Publication Date: January 12, 2021
"Bette Howland wrote a book I thought was impossible to write."
“A remarkable literary voice rediscovered.”
“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)
Bette Howland (1937-2017) published three books in her lifetime: W-3, and the story collections Blue in Chicago and Things to Come and Go. She received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1984, after which she did not publish another book. Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, her selected stories, was published in 2019, restoring to the canon the work of a remarkable writer.
Incandescent… Howland’s [memoir] is uniquely arresting in its omniscient attention, radiant artistry, zealously pursued insights, and abiding respect for those who share her struggle.
—Donna Seaman, Booklist
Bette Howland wrote a book I thought was impossible to write.
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
In W-3, Bette Howland continues to help us reimagine the depth and breadth of humanity that a single book can contain, not only in her willingness to portray her own experience, but to observe, to empathize, to listen to and take such care with the individuals she encounters along the way.
—Lynn Steger Strong
Howland tracks our madnesses and oddnesses…. Her work lies in a borderland between sociology and poetry.
―Abigail Deutsch, Harper’s
This book’s singularity and strength derive not only from the writing itself… but above all from Bette Howland’s unusual angle of vision: she writes as if she were a participant-observer, a novelist-anthropologist in a strange, often perplexing new place.
―Johanna Kaplan, Commentary
[Her] sentences continue to beat with a stylish percussion and a glowing heart.
―Donna Rifkind, Wall Street Journal
A compassionate, trenchant, and hilarious ethnographer of eccentricities and dysfunction.
Howland’s powers of observation are like military-grade weapons.
―University of Chicago Magazine
A master of silences, of the unsaid, of what cannot be addressed.
―Jenessa Abrams, Guernica
Lady Antaeus: A portfolio in A Public Space No. 23 on Bette Howland, including stories, essays, and correspondence from a forty-year friendship with Saul Bellow
I Had Been Meaning to Write: Letters from Bette Howland to Saul Bellow in A Public Space No. 26
New York Times obituary
Love Between Writers: Jacob Howland on Saul Bellow and Bette Howland in the Jewish Review of Books.
Bette Howland: The Tale of A Forgotten Genius by A. N. Devers at Lit Hub