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Forum XVII (Winter 2021)


It is rare now for people to stay where they were raised, and when we encounter one another—whether in person or, increasingly, online—it is usually in contexts that obscure if not outright hide details about our past. But even in moments of pure self-invention, we are always shaped by the past. In Ancestors, some of today’s most imaginative writers consider what it means to be made and fashioned by others. Are we shaped by grandparents, family, the deep past, political forebears, inherited social and economic circumstances? Can we choose our family, or is blood always thicker? And looking forward, what will it mean to be ancestors ourselves, and how will our descendants remember us?

Editors’ Note
Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Adam McGee, Ed Pavlić, & Ivelisse Rodriguez



Achal Prabhala, Binyavanga Wainaina
Celebrated writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s first piece of fiction was thought to be lost. Recently rediscovered, it appears here twenty-five years after it originally debuted.
Duana Fullwiley
Home DNA ancestry kits include no ancestors, instead comparing customers to other present-day people based on assumptions about race and ethnicity. So what are they actually selling?
Kyoko Uchida

Three Poems

How is it that we’re still learning / to draw breath, a lungful of burning coal / to speak, to name ourselves, our daughters?
Deborah Taffa
“Healing never restores us to the way we were before getting hurt.” A trip to Machu Picchu ends up offering surprising insights into what it means to be a survivor of the genocide of Native Americans.
Diamond Forde
Our bodies, temples—shouldn’t that mean anyone can worship? Shouldn’t that mean it’s okay to dip my hips into a communion bowl?
Felicia Zamora

If I cross paths with myself on the sidewalk, I’m not sure I will recognize my own face.

Tyehimba Jess
The Sacred Black Masculine in My Life
Racquel Goodison

“Every time she noticed he was dressed for sport, she’d head for the door.” In this short story, a young Jamaican man weighs his responsibility to his family against his love of biking.

Terrance Hayes

Remembering poets Lynda Hull and Michael S. Harper, with original portraits

Reginald McKnight
"The Earth’s skin had become a million toads." After a town undergoes a disturbing transformation, a boy finds a solitary companion.


Metta Sáma

No More Sorrow Songs

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Yeoh Jo-Ann
“I could have been a clever girl. When the first of the Japanese bombs fell on Penang, my father stopped us from going to school. And when the war was over, there was no question of going back. So I married your father.” Three generations of a family struggle to maintain their way of life in a country changed irrevocably by war.
José B. González

The sewing machines have been pushed aside to a far-off world, but I can still hear their thumping

Cheswayo Mphanza

Two white men carrying briefcases walk in on a congressional meeting held by African leaders dressed in Western attire. Clapping at the president who resembles Léopold Senghor. He uses words like “revolutionary” and “independence” and they garner an applause.

Ocean Vuong
As my relatives melted, I stood on one leg, raised my arms, eyes shut, & thought: tree tree tree as death passed me—untouched.
Vuyelwa Maluleke

[Evidence: Personal Effects] A Purse Full of Black

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Domenica Ruta

Companion Animals

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Bennet Bergman
We knew so little about the plague we underwent . . .
Day Heisinger-Nixon
“Room, Room, Room, in the many Mansions of Eternal Glory for Thee and for Everyone” & “Publick Universal Friend Adopts a More Androgynous Appearance . . .”


Sonia Sanchez & Christina Knight

In this searching interview, legendary Black Arts poet Sonia Sanchez discusses the ancestral influences on her work and how art can give us strength.

Tyree Daye
Emily Lordi
A Sun Ra tribute concert by a member of the pathbreaking pop group Labelle leads to reflections on how Black women artists and scientists have often been at the vanguard of their disciplines—though most are still awaiting due recognition.
Sam Bett, Izumi Suzuki
The last humans on a planet attempt a nice family outing—except that they can’t remember how. A short story from Japanese counterculture icon Izumi Suzuki, available for the first time in English in a new translation by Sam Bett.

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