TW: SA, fatal illness, childhood trauma
In recognition of Asian Awareness Month 2022, the Advisor to Students of Asian Descent Karen Shih hosted a discussion with Grace Talusan, the author of “The Body Papers: A Memoir.”
Talusan is the winner of the Restless Book Prize for New Immigrant Writing, the winner in nonfiction for the 2020 Massachusetts Book Awards and was selected as a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her book “The Body Papers: A Memoir” draws from her background as a Filipino immigrant and tells a raw and gripping story of childhood sexual abuse and being a cancer survivor. Her perspectives on growing up as an Asian American woman contributed to and helped her heal from her trauma. These experiences also fostered a more engrossing and relatable story for many immigrant children.
Talusan read out some very poignant excerpts from her book, some of which were especially relevant to college students. She discussed her struggles with mental health and how she was able to receive free therapy from her college — not asking for a copay or involve her parents’ insurance.
“It was hard to ask them all the time and a deterrent having them comment on it,” said Talusan.
She continues to be in therapy today and says that despite it being resource-intensive in terms of time and money, she has found it worth it.
Talusan said that she finds herself as being in the present but also observing it from another perspective at the same time, which is what makes her a good writer.
Talusan added that although she did not read a book by an Asian American writer until the end of high school, she found herself in books, and they provided a sense of community for her growing up.
She credits the close community of people around her as people she entrusts with her work, especially a special writing group where they show, comment and critique each other’s work. It was primarily comprised of writing teachers who hadn’t published their first books when it began. By the time Talsun’s book came out, she said almost all the people within that group had managed to achieve their own publications, all within a timeframe of five years.
Talusan is now a writing professor at Brandeis University.
“I’ve had all different kinds of educational experiences. Some were very shaming and damaging. I thought about that and who I want to be in the classroom,” Talusan said.
She has made a conscious effort to make sure she does not model herself after people whose ways of teaching were damaging to her. Talusan considers writing very vulnerable and works to help people improve in ways that cause them as little harm as possible.
“The Body Papers: A Memoir” is a must-read and a wonderful telling of her personal journey.