Ex-‘TNT’ Fil-Am writer wins Publishers Weekly Restless Books Prize
NEW YORK — A Filipino American former undocumented immigrant is the winner of the 2017 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing for Nonfiction, Publishers Weekly announced.
Grace Talusan won the prize for her memoir The Body Papers “a brave, artful memoir about trauma, illness, and immigration as told through personal and official documentation,” according to the judges’ citation. The book is scheduled to be published in the Fall of 2018.
“Grace Talusan has written a remarkable memoir in The Body Papers, training an unflinching eye on the most delicate and fraught contours of her own life as an immigrant and survivor of trauma and illness. She tackles with literary subtlety and a deep reservoir of compassion the paradoxes imposed by being the ‘perfect immigrant’—but also an ‘illegal’ one,” the judges’ citation states.
“She gives herself permission to detach from her religious, traditional, family-first Filipino culture in order to excavate a legacy of violence and abuse that, unmentionable at the time, dominated her childhood and shaped her adulthood. Throughout, she incisively navigates the ambiguities of identity that immigrants constantly face,” the judges state further.
In The Body Papers, Talusan uses documents—such as immigration papers, cancer test results, and legal certificates—to map an associative path to memory and the epicenters of reverberating injury and trauma. She presents the concept of “the body” as a concentric circle that expands outward: the female body; the body of the family; the body of the Philippines; the body of a writer’s work.
“The Body Papers may be Grace Talusan’s debut, but it is the considered, artful work of one who has been processing these experiences with the diligence and courage of a true writer. In its message of resilience—and the salvation to be found in books—Talusan’s memoir will serve as an inspiration to thousands of young immigrants who feel the weight of secrecy and silence pressed upon them,” write prize judges Anjali Singh and Ilan Stavans.
Kept many secrets
“I kept many secrets growing up, including the fact that I was an ‘illegal alien.’ I always considered myself an American and was shocked to learn in high school that, at least on paper, I wasn’t,” Talusan confides.
“Like the young immigrants with deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), as a child, I crossed the border with my parents. We made a life and then our visas had expired and while we were in the administrative process of fixing our papers, we fell out of status. Along with the approximate 300,000 undocumented Filipinos in the US today, we were TNT, tago nang tago, or ‘always hiding.’
“During the several years we worked to regulate our immigration status, I worried we would soon be deported to the Philippines, a place I knew little about. I didn’t want to become separated from my younger siblings, who were born U.S. citizens in our mixed-status family. I feared losing the only home I knew and my future, which contained only American dreams. When I finally became a U.S. citizen, my naturalization certificate and blue passport became the most valuable papers I’d ever possessed, more valuable than diplomas or even money.
“The very things that I am supposed to keep secret are what I am drawn to write about. I write about what I cannot speak. The Body Papers is a memoir-in-essays, which explores my lived experiences with identity, intergenerational trauma, abuse, colonialism, immigration, returning, depression, and hereditary cancer. The book is also about faith, friendship, and the transformative possibilities of love.
“As new immigrants with no safety net, my parents were always busy working, so I am forever grateful to the kind neighbor who brought me to the public library when I was in the first grade. I suddenly had unlimited access to books, which became my companions. And books soon led me to real friendships cultivated through a shared love of reading, and later, writing. Despite being a voracious reader, I didn’t read a book by a Filipino immigrant until college, Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart. I’m thrilled that my book about my particular immigrant and Filipino American experiences will soon exist on a bookstore or library shelf somewhere, ready for a reader to come upon it.
“I hope a variety of readers connect to my writing, which is about universal human experiences, and I would be especially proud if my book resonated with Filipino readers in the diaspora. Perhaps The Body Papers will encourage someone to break a silence and share a true story. It’s my lifelong dream come true to publish a book, and I hope mine will soon have the good company of other underrepresented voices in literature as there are so many stories we have yet to read.”
Talusan is a writer and writing teacher. She has published essays, long-form journalism, fiction and book reviews in Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Boston Magazine, Boston Globe, The Rumpus, and many others. She is the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines and an Artist Fellowship Award from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and has been awarded residencies to Hedgebrook, Ragdale, and the Dune Shacks in Provincetown.
She is a graduate of Tufts University and the MFA Program in Writing at the University of California, Irvine. At Tufts University, she teaches in the English Department and The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. She is a longtime member and teacher at Grub Street, an independent creative writing center. She lives outside of Boston with her husband.
Each year, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing awards $10,000 and publication to a first-time, first-generation author. The Prize is awarded for fiction and nonfiction in alternating years. The prize looks for extraordinary writing from emerging writers of sharp, culture-straddling writing that addresses identity in a global age.
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