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Saved: Objects of the Dead Introduction

by Michelle Latiolais

I have occasionally noted that one of the humbling things about growing older has been to recognize, with no small amount of chagrin on my part, just how nice older people were to me as a young person, and I have subsequently come to understand, too, that one of the graces one must learn as one gets older, is how to honor the dead, and how to honor what the dead have left in us, and left to us. If you were lucky enough to grow up in a Japanese home, there was a butsudan, with pictures of ancestors and incense and with special bread and flowers to welcome back the souls of the dead, and so quietly, beautifully, what artist Jody Servon and poet Lorene Delany-Ullman have made for us by creating Saved: Objects of the Dead is both a book and an altar. I use the word altar in a secular sense because it is not about our relationship with God, whatever that may or may not be, but about our recognition of the humans who have come before us, and subsequently made us, and rendered our consciousness a consciousness, a psychic space where we live.

We say the word “honor” easily, such as I am honored to be asked to introduce so and so, and we mean it in that moment of decorum, but then we are past it, and soon there are cocktails, desert, all good, but what is the long verb to honor, to stop the forward thrusting engines of all of our lives, engines which are necessary, don’t get me wrong, ba boom, ba boom, our heart pumps go, but even they must be quieted for a time in order to honor, to nestle the tribute within the soil that sustains us, how do we do that, when do we do that, and do we do it enough, or perhaps even sometimes too much? These are some of the questions this beautiful project Saved: Objects of the Dead enliven in my mind, and perhaps in yours, too.

I am indeed honored to be asked to introduce our artists and writers, and to thank Jody and Lorene for this book, and a word about the very fine writer Alberto Gullaba who is going to conduct the panel. I was overjoyed to be invited to Alberto’s wedding to Darlene Prado, and at that wedding, Alberto made a toast to his father that I can still hear in my mind’s ear. It was a toast to his parents, really, but the difficulties had been with his father, and the exacting exercise of heart and mind and forgiveness that toast entailed was something I will always remember.

We don’t know the origins of the word to transmogrify, and we tend to use it in religious contexts, but for me it is what writers do with pain, and it honors the pain, never lessons it or subdues it, but it does transform it into art. And it does indeed save us.


Michelle Latiolais is the Director of the Programs In Writing at UC Irvine.  She is the author of the novel Even Now which received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the Commonwealth Club of California.  Her second novel, A Proper Knowledge, was published in 2008 by Bellevue Literary Press.  Widow, a collection of stories, Involutions and essays, was released in January 2011 from Bellevue Literary Press, and was a finalist for The Believer Award.  She was released in May 2016 by W.W. Norton & Company, a novel with embedded stories.  Recent work has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Santa Monica Review, Juked, and The Kenyon Review.

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