The Body Papers: A Memoir
with Grace Talusan, in conversation with Elif Armbruster
Born in the Philippines, young Grace Talusan moves with her family to a New England suburb in the 1970s. At school, she confronts racism as one of the few kids with a brown face. At home, the confusion is worse: her grandfather’s nightly visits to her room leave her hurt and terrified, and she learns to build a protective wall of silence that maps onto the larger silence practiced by her Catholic Filipino family. Talusan learns as a teenager that her family’s legal status in the country has always hung by a thread—for a time, they were “illegal.” Family, she’s told, must be put first.
The abuse and trauma Talusan suffers as a child affects all her relationships, her mental health, and her relationship with her own body. Later, she learns that her family history is threaded with violence and abuse. And she discovers another devastating family thread: cancer. In her thirties, Talusan must decide whether to undergo preventive surgeries to remove her breasts and ovaries. Despite all this, she finds love, and success as a teacher. On a fellowship, Talusan and her husband return to the Philippines, where she revisits her family’s ancestral home and tries to reclaim a lost piece of herself.
Not every family legacy is destructive. From her parents, Talusan has learned to tell stories in order to continue. The generosity of spirit and literary acuity of this debut memoir are a testament to her determination and resilience. In excavating such abuse and trauma, and supplementing her story with government documents, medical records, and family photos, Talusan gives voice to unspeakable experience, and shines a light of hope into the darkness.
Grace Talusan was born in the Philippines and raised in New England. As a toddler, she came to the US with her parents from the Philippines. She grew up in New England and became a US citizen in her twenties. She graduated from the MFA Program in Writing at UC Irvine and then taught in the creative writing program at the University of Oregon. She returned to Tufts University, where for many years, she taught writing in the English Department and courses in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She has published in Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Boston Magazine, Boston Globe, The Rumpus, and many others. She is a longtime member and teacher at Grub Street, an independent creative writing center, and lives outside of Boston with her husband. Currently, Talusan is the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University. The Body Papers, winner of the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, is her first book.
Elif Armbruster, PhD, is an Associate Professor of English at Suffolk University where she focuses her teaching and research on American literature, women's writing, and ethnic and immigrant studies. In addition to her book, Domestic Biographies: Stowe, Howells, James, and Wharton at Home, Elif has published and delivered papers on Louisa May Alcott, Willa Cather, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Anchee Min, and Laura Esquivel, among many others. She is currently working on a study of "Nasty Women" in American Literature as well as writing a memoir, for which she is enrolled in a yearlong course at Grub Street, where she had the good fortune to meet Grace Talusan.
This event is part of “Women, Agency, and the Meaning of Home," in honor of Women's History Month and International Women's Day (March 8). Join us for our next two events that examine female agency and multicultural identities:
What the Books Don't Tell You
Lecture with former Boston Literary District Writer-in-Residence Justine Chang
12-1 pm on March 10, 2020
A Conversation on Female Agency: Displacement and Power During Political Turmoil
Discussion with authors Marjan Kamali and Katrin Schumann
6-7 pm on March 12, 2020