Grace Talusan - A Filipino Writer in the World
She published dispatches from the pandemic in two anthologies, And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again and Alone Together, which raised funds for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Born in the Philippines and raised in New England, she graduated from Tufts University in Boston and the MFA Program in Writing at UC Irvine in California. Grace taught writing for many years at Tufts University and Grub Street, and is currently the Fannie Hurst Writer-in-Residence at Brandeis University. Grace was the recipient of a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to the Philippines in 2015. Although she left the Philippines as a toddler and grew up in New England, where there was a small community of Filipino immigrants, she had always wanted to spend time in the country where she was born.
“I wanted to breathe the air, eat the food, and live and work in the Philippines so that I could imagine what my life might have been like if we had not left. The Fulbright was the only way that I could imagine making this dream happen. Many people say they want to live abroad or try living in another country and I feel so lucky that I was able to experience that. I knew it would be life changing and it was."
Grace lived and worked in Manila (specifically, Bonifacio Global City or “BGC”) in order to be in an area where there were a lot of business processing outsourcing centers. She interviewed call center workers who worked in the industry for her project entitled “Sunshine Makers: Narratives of U.S. and Filipino Workers in the ‘Sunshine Industry’ of Call Centers and Business Process Outsourcing.” Her husband came to the Philippines with her and they had the habit of going to the Legaspi Sunday Market in Makati in Metro Manila every week for barako coffee and pan de sal (strong local coffee and fresh-baked buns).
“We'd have conversations with many people and eventually some of these people became friends and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We'd spend hours sitting at a table and more people would drop by and we'd go back to vendors for more food. Those were some of my favorite times. We met all kinds of people--writers, artisans, farmers, actors, and even distant relatives who wanted to connect. We had wonderful conversations and even met the woman who founded the market, Mara Pardo de Tavera. I often made plans with people at the market on Sundays and ended up on all kinds of adventures that week.”
Grace sees her Fulbright experience as an important turning point that enabled her to have profound, rich experiences that she wrote about in her first book and gave her the time and resources to devote herself to writing her memoir. A lot of the thoughts and feelings she had about her experience are in that book.
“So many good things and unexpected riches have come from those months abroad and I imagine these will reverberate for the rest of my life. I became closer to family members—some had never had the opportunity to travel outside of the Philippines, so I only knew them through photos. It's been several years and some of those people are gone now and I'm grateful that I got to know them before it was too late. I've stayed in contact with many of my friends there and last fall collaborated with two Filipino-based journalists, Howie Severino and Xyza Cruz Bacani, with a US-based arts organizer, Barbara Parayno of PAWA Inc (Philippine Artists and Writers Association), for an online discussion around a short story I published about Overseas Filipino Workers.The Fulbright was a profound gift of time and resources for me to live as a writer in my motherland. I am so grateful for that and try to live my life in a way that honors that gift.” Watch the online PAWA discussion about Grace’s short story here: https://youtu.be/urhltMA_cGg. Learn more about Grace at her website: https://www.gracetalusan.com/.