Grace Loh Prasad

On Diaspora, Grief, and Writing About Living Family, and on Her Memoir ‘The Translator’s Daughter’

Cover of Grace Loh Prasad: On Diaspora, Grief, and Writing About Living Family,  and on Her Memoir ‘The Translator’s Daughter’

Grace Loh Prasad and I first met at the Tin House Summer Workshop less than a year ago. We were standing on one of the quads on campus, between sessions, and Grace told me about her memoir, The Translator’s Daughter (The Ohio State University Press, 2024), which she was in the process of getting published. One of the things she examines in it is her delicate connection with her heritage, and her fear of losing that when her parents passed away. She didn’t know it, but as she talked, I nearly cried with the surprise and relief of hearing my own experiences and fears encapsulated so precisely. Growing up, I didn’t have language for my version of the experiences she described. Eight-year-old me didn’t even know she was part of something called a “diaspora.” 

Now, young people have so many ways to encapsulate the diasporic experience. There are terms like “third culture kid,” and innumerable charming Tiktoks exploring the complexities of having roots in multiple cultures. There is a more widespread understanding that the people within a diaspora are not a monolith, that we have different relationships with our cultures. 

Grace in particular writes this memoir to celebrate her family and her ties to Taiwan, even though it is loss and grief that underpin her stories. Grace and I spoke over Zoom  about her writing process, how she navigates writing about real people, and how she writes in order to make sense of the world and her place in it.


Neha Bagchi: I can’t fully express what relief and joy it has been for me to read your work and to have conversations with you about all of this. 

Grace Loh Prasad: Thank you. I appreciate that. It is a relief to read something and know that someone has experienced something that is close to you and that you’re not alone. Just last year I read an essay about heritage language loss. And I thought, oh my gosh, there’s a word for that! It’s not just this weird thing that only happened to me and that only I am guilty of. 

It was so interesting to learn that there are other people who experience this and feel some sadness about it. I love discovering words and terminology about these things; it just makes everything click into place.

NB: I think grief and fear and love are like soup. And you can’t hold the soup in your hands. You need the container of language to contain the soup. Wait, this is the worst metaphor ever.

GLP: No, no…

NB: What I mean to say is that your writing has great resonance for me personally. Thank you for doing the incredibly difficult work of putting words to the diasporic experience.

GLP: Thank you. I appreciate that. It means so much to me to know that this kind of crazy thing that was just in my head can have meaning for other people, can help other people feel seen, feel less alone.  I think that is ultimately why a lot of us become writers.

NB: Absolutely. It’s a collective sensemaking and languaging of our experiences. Speaking of metaphors, as somebody who does not have a child, I hesitate to use pregnancy, birth, or child-rearing metaphors, but they’re tempting. How much of a parallel do you see in between having and raising a child, and having a writing idea and seeing it through?

GLP: I would say you have more control over the writing!

Raising a child teaches you so much, and the kind of writing I do, I think also teaches me a lot. I have some thoughts, I write them down, and I come back to it again, maybe shift things around, and see if it means anything. I write to understand myself and to understand my place in the world. 

NB: And not everything we write in that early phase makes it into a finished piece.

GLP: Right. I have hundreds of thousands of words of stuff that are just notes that are just me processing things: notes from trips I took to Taiwan, what I was thinking while visiting my parents, experiences both mundane and astounding. But there is a difference between keeping a diary and writing a memoir. Writing is both process and input, and you can never forget that. 

And I have been occasionally in the process of an essay where I’m writing about one topic and I realize I have a nugget somewhere else that is going to fit here. And that is a wonderful feeling: the puzzle pieces coming together.

When raising a child, you have to be open to the fact that they’re gonna have their own schedule of how they develop. They’re gonna have their own opinions. You can shape them somewhat as a parent, but people and things grow unevenly. You can look at what other people do and read all the books about it, but it may or may not apply to you. So you’re constantly observing and understanding this individual and who they are and who they want to be. Writing is like that too. A piece doesn’t necessarily know from the outset what it wants to be. I think you have to approach it with a spirit of openness and not over determine the end product, just like with the child. You can’t guarantee that they are going to turn out a certain way. They have to express themselves; they have to have space to grow into who they’re meant to be.

NB: Does your son read what you’ve written?

GLP: He does, yeah. He hasn’t read everything, but he’s read the more recent things that I’ve published. And he’s read the last piece in the memoir, which is a letter to him. He knows that he makes appearances here and there throughout my writing.

NB: My parents are both writers, and I feel like I got to know them through their writing, as their reader, in ways that I wouldn’t necessarily have as their child. I’m so happy for your son that he is going to have so much of your voice to come back to over time as he grows. What about your husband? What is his relationship with your work?

GLP: He does a different kind of writing from me (music journalism), so I don’t necessarily seek his feedback as I’m writing in the way that I would from my writing group or from peers in creative writing. I think it’s actually a good thing that we do different kinds of writing because we are not competitive at all. Our writing universes are different; there’s little overlap. 

I did want to make sure that he was comfortable with how he is portrayed in the book. He read pieces of this book as they came out. There were some sections he hadn’t read until the book was in proofs, and he said, “I better read it now, right?” And I said, “Yeah, because my edits are due back in a few days!” 

NB: It’s tricky writing in a memoir about people who are still alive, or whose immediate family are still alive.

GLP: Yes. There’s another chapter in which I write about my brother—his life, and his passing—and it’s a very sensitive thing because his children, who were teenagers then, are now adults. I ran it by them and I said, “I’ve written this thing, it’s about your dad, and if it in any way troubles you or you’re uncomfortable, I’ll change things. Or if you don’t want it at all, I will pull it from publication. I want to make sure you feel okay about it, because you are mentioned here, and this is a very personal experience.” My two nieces read it and said they were fine with it, that they were proud of me—and that it was nice to have a record of it, even if it’s from my perspective, which is different from how the experience happened for them. But yeah, they gave their blessing and that was important to me.

NB: I’m so glad that your nieces gave you the green light. I’m taken by the fact that you are so sure that if they had expressed discomfort, you would’ve pulled that from the book. It seems like you did not feel that taking this piece out would compromise the story you wanted to tell. 

GLP: There are ways I could talk about what happened without it being a whole chapter. But in general, I think it’s harder when people have a difficult relationship with the people they’re writing about, say if it involves someone being mistreated or abused, or terrible, violent things that happened, or fraught, unsavory family secrets. But that’s not what’s happening in my book. I’m not exposing secrets. I’m not talking about anybody that has mistreated me. I’m writing from a place of love, of celebrating relationships. My parents read some of my writing while they were alive. And even though I sometimes show them not at their best—when they are vulnerable, or sick, or not themselves—it’s always from a place of love for them. I’m not criticizing them.

NB: As opposed to memoirs about difficult childhoods or difficult relationships where someone is writing to unearth something, to make peace with something unsavory, to unpack a trauma. Which is not to say there isn’t trauma in your book, but it feels different. It’s the trauma of being part of a diaspora as opposed to somebody specifically mistreating you.

GLP: That’s exactly right. There are forces that shaped my family’s trajectory and our migrations

NB: External forces shaping your journey, but not a single or focused attack on you.

GLP: Right.

NB: You told me that this book began as a collection of essays in 2000-2001, and that you shaped the essays and added to them over the years. How has this project evolved or changed over that time?

GLP: At first I was just writing individual pieces. I worked on the essays during my MFA, from 2001 to 2003, and those became my MFA thesis. But it wasn’t a book quite yet. It didn’t have a specific shape. I’m so glad I didn’t push hard to try and get it published at the time, because it wasn’t ready. I think there’s a lot of pressure to take an MFA thesis and try to turn it into a book. But I had to live a lot more of my life. 

I thought the book it might eventually become would be about just reconnecting with Taiwan. That changed a lot over time because I experienced the loss of my brother and then my mom, and then my dad, and I was writing through all of these things. And then I also got married, and I had a child. So life happened, a lot of things happened, which I think ultimately deepened and brought more meaning to the work.

I had a new lens to reflect on things: the point of view that comes from experiencing grief and even further separation from my culture, from my heritage, from my family, just as I was trying to get closer. But also there was the new lens of being a wife, having a child, and then thinking about what it would take to raise that child and what kind of community I needed that I didn’t have or that I wished for. 

So there were a lot of different life experiences, after the intense focused period of study that was the MFA, that made the book what it is.

NB: How did your earliest essays fit into the book?

GLP: I thought I would feel some discomfort or angst, reading my earlier work. But that was not the case. When I look at it, even the earliest pieces, I think, yeah, that’s who I was, and that’s how it felt at that moment. And I accept that it’s a snapshot in time. Also, the way I structured my book, it’s not written straight through in a singular voice. I present some things as they happen, but others I reflect on from a point further in the future. And so I think that allowed me to preserve some of the older essays. They are like time capsules.

NB: How do you make space for your creative writing given that you have a full-time job and a family?

GLP: Mostly my writing gets squeezed into weekends and evenings. Evenings are more for administrative stuff, like responding to emails. Occasionally I try to do my own writing retreats, which I know is a privilege and I’m so grateful I can do it. I find an inexpensive motel maybe forty-five minutes away, and just stay there for three or four days, which I find is just the perfect chunk of time. And the key is to go someplace that is nice, that has amenities, but is otherwise kind of boring and doesn’t have too much going on. 

It helps that my husband is also a writer. So we understand each other. That makes a huge difference when you’re trying to make a creative life, having a spouse who understands the kind of time and space it requires. That support is essential, and I wish everyone had that.

NB: What’s next, after this book?

GLP: I have in mind a couple of fiction projects. However, I’ve never published fiction. Certainly I’ve studied it, I read it. But I’m still finding my footing writing it, so I think it’s going to take a while. Hopefully I’ll find some time and either do a retreat or a residency or something so that I can close myself off in that world, because I’m one of those people who need separation in order to really write and to make a lot of progress.



Grace Loh Prasad is the author of The Translator’s Daughter (Mad Creek Books/The Ohio State University Press, 2024), a debut memoir about living between languages, navigating loss, and the search for belonging. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Longreads, The Offing, Hyperallergic, Catapult, KHÔRA, and elsewhere. A member of the Writers Grotto and the AAPI writers collective Seventeen Syllables, Prasad lives in the Bay Area.

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