Each fall for the last nine years, the Boston Book Festival has distributed thousands of copies of One City One Story, a short story with resonance for Bostonians, written by an author from the city’s metro area. For a brief moment this spring, the disruption of the coronavirus caused organizers to wonder if there would be a 10th. But yesterday the organization announced that one story in particular, author Grace Talusan’s The Book of Life and Death, made them reconsider, and is this year's citywide selection for the 10th installment in the series.
"We had some real talk about whether we could actually do this,” Boston Book Fest executive director Norah Piehl said. “Can we make One City One Story, which relies on the person-to-person interaction and involves handing out stories at train stations and major public events?”After reading Talusan’s story, Piehl said the committee knew to forge ahead.
The Book of Life and Death follows the story of a Filipina immigrant who holds a job as a domestic worker, sending money back to the Philippines while seeing her family’s life at home go by in pictures. Talusan, whose memoir The Body Papers was a New York Times Editors Choice last year, updated the story from an earlier version written 10 years ago, so that it occurs with coronavirus as a backdrop.
“From immigration to the sacrifices that we make for our families, there’s a way that a lot of people might be able to enter the story and talk and have a shared text experience,” Talusan said.
While the print run will be smaller this year, the Boston Public Library has committed to distributing books at its locations that are open, and the city’s bookstores will give out copies. The story will also be translated into multiple languages, including Tagalog; something that was made possible after the author led a fundraising effort to hire translator Kristoffer Brugada.
Talusan, who teaches creative writing at Brandeis University, was born in the Philippines and raised near Boston. She said the publication of the story is particularly important to her as Filipina-Bostonian. “Filipinos are very much part of this community, but I feel like we’re often invisible,” she said, “so the opportunity to center a story about a Filipina is an incredible chance to raise our visibility.”
Virtual community discussions are being planned for the story throughout the year, and it may well be that the book itself, which will be distributed in September, is Boston Book Festival’s only physical presence this year. The rest of the festival, slated for October 5 and 25 will be held online. That digital experience of a cultural event is prominent in the story and in the mind of the author.
“I think all of us are doing this now because we’re being forced to,” Talusan said, “But we’ve had Filipinos live-streaming funerals and weddings an baptisms for as long as I can remember, maybe 10 years, because we have to.”