Grace Talusan

She // Her // Hers

[ID: A headshot of a Filipino American woman with straight, shoulder-length black hair and a black top. She looks toward the viewer with her brown eyes and smiles at the camera.]

Multigenre Writer
Boston, MA
2022 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Barr Foundation.

Grace Talusan is the author of The Body Papers, which won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant writing and the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. The Boston Book Festival chose Talusan’s short story “The Book of Life and Death” for the One City One Story program, translating it into several languages, including Tagalog.

She has published fiction, essays, book reviews, and journalism in a range of outlets, including Creative Nonfiction, The New York Times, Boston Globe, The Rumpus, and Longreads. Her fiction and essays appear in anthologies such as Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora, And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again, and Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19. Her work will also appear in the forthcoming publication Somewhere We Are Human: Authentic Voices on Migration, Survival, and New Beginnings.

She has received support for her writing from a US Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines, a Mass Cultural Council Artist Fellowship, and the Brother Thomas Fund; she has had residencies at Hedgebrook, Ragdale, and the Provincetown Community Compact Dune Shacks.

Born in the Philippines, Talusan lives outside of Boston. She is the Fannie Hurst writer in residence at Brandeis University, where she teaches creative writing.

Portrait photo by Alonso Nichols.


“The Book Of Life And Death”

Ever since I left the Philippines to try my luck overseas, I’ve been lugging around a series of mismatched, plastic-covered photo albums and scrapbooks I call Marybelle’s Book of Life and Death. It’s a series. When I start a new album, I tape a ribbon to the center page, splitting the photo book into two chapters: Life and Death. I fill the pages of each album with snapshots of those who have just taken their first breath and those who have taken their last.

Without my mother’s help back home in Manila, my collection would be incomplete. For years, when someone in my family was born or died, my mother would grab the elbow of the photographer and say, “Remember copies for Marybelle.” Then she’d wrap the photos in plastic and mail them to wherever I was working—Lebanon or Saudi or Hong Kong.

Last year, my fellow Overseas Filipino Workers, the government called us new heroes, bagong bayani, poured the equivalent of over $33 billion, up 4 percent from the previous year, into our home country from all over Asia, Africa, and the Americas. We work on water—cruise and cargo ships; on land—nurses and nannies; underground—oil and mining; and in the air—constructing buildings and highway flyovers.

We are described as human capital stock, but I am very much human.

International mail takes forever, and I move around so much that sometimes the newborn is celebrating their one-year birthday or the newly dead is marking their first anniversary by the time the photos find me. But that was before smartphones and unlimited data. These days, my mother shares the images herself, sometimes taking pictures of someone else’s pictures, transmitting them instantly so that I can be sharply aware in real time of what I’ve missed. I print the photos in the few remaining places one can do this, pharmacies and copy shops. It’s convenient, but I don’t have the same feeling as when I would receive a thick envelope from the Philippines, the coarse, mustard-yellow paper still infused with the very odor of home. I’d hold it to my cheek, remembering the warmth of my mother’s skin. I felt loved, and remembering this love is how I survive without the company of the most important people to me.