A formerly incarcerated writer reflects on what prison can do to a person

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Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku

By Michael Fischer

I’m just a magnet for crazy old guys who never shut up, reads my journal entry from September 25th, 2014. Fucking Wright comes around bothering me every day.

I’d learned Wright’s name a month earlier when he was enrolled in a rotation of Phase 3, the re-entry course all inmates are required to take before going home. It’s supposed to prepare us for a smooth return to society — considered a joke by staff and inmates alike.

I’m toward the end of my two-year sentence and will soon be forced to take the class myself, but until I go home in January, I’m assigned to help teach it. I’m what the state calls an IPA, or Inmate Program Associate, eligible for the position because I graduated high school. I get grade-four pay, the highest inmate pay grade in a medium-security prison: twenty-four cents an hour. A can of commissary tuna costs $1.01. …


“Wait. I remember you from high school,” he said once, when Lee was on top of him. “You’re that girl who married the janitor,” he said. “Why?”

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Illustration: Ansellia Kulikku

Fiction by Ariel Courage

After her marriage fell apart, Lee landed back in Passaic. Some might have considered it a defeat to return to their hometown a 23-year-old single mother with an overdrawn bank account, especially when they’d so vocally wanted to leave.

But Lee didn’t feel defeated. She felt, instead, giddy with possibility. After all, she’d changed. Her former high school classmates wouldn’t recognize her, she was sure; she barely recognized herself. No way would she make the same mistakes. …


The author on her new memoir, ‘Sick’; searching for home; and her struggle to be heard by the medical establishment

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Photo: Sylvie Rosokoff

By Hillary Brenhouse

What is the body but a first and imperfect home? And if the body is a home, then illness can be like an eviction notice, or a bad deed of sale. Illness can make you a vagrant.

Porochista Khakpour’s recent memoir, Sick, has been described as a narrative of malady, but it is also a story of displacement. Born in Tehran in 1978, the writer was a child of revolution and war, and then a refugee; when she was three her family fled to America, which for decades her father insisted was a place of temporary settlement. As an adult she has been in almost perpetual movement, and Sick is structured by the cities (among them, LA, Leipzig, Santa Fe, New York) that she passes between, and the various men who shape and bear witness to her life. At the center of the book and this enduring rootlessness is late-stage Lyme disease, a host of nebulous ailments. But even before any diagnosis, Khakpour experiences herself as ethereal, barely there, only very loosely tethered to a body that cannot be the house of her. “My shell was not something meant to contain me,” she writes. …


The novelist, poet, and translator on the responsibilities we hold, the consequences of silence, and writing cross-genre

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By Mickie Meinhardt

I first met Idra Novey nearly three years ago, when she visited my MFA class to discuss her debut novel, Ways To Disappear. Over the course of two and a half hours, the celebrated translator, poet, and then-new fiction writer discussed the challenges of beginning to write fiction; writing while also translating other works; and the particulars of the art of translation: how it taught her to value not only other languages, but the nuances of other cultures. Her sharp intellect, genuine warmth, and probing mind make her a superb conversationalist and teacher. …


The author of ‘How to Sit’ discusses her mixed genre, multi-generational essays about black girlhood, womanhood, trauma, and triumph

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Photo and cover image courtesy of Mason Jar Press

By Sarah Kasbeer

Tyrese Coleman can’t pinpoint exactly when she decided she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her how to be. Was it when she was a young girl, and her grandmother slapped her foot to chastise her for crossing her legs like a grown woman? Or was it later, after she allowed herself to mourn that same grandmother’s death in a way even she worried might not be acceptable?

Just like there is no one way to live, there is no one way to write a memoir. Coleman’s debut collection, How to Sit, a memoir in essays and stories, declines to fit into any one traditional genre. Published by Mason Jar Press in September, the book leaves us wondering where the author’s life ends and her fiction begins — and whether that distinction matters, so long as her emotional truths are faithfully rendered. …


It’s unbearable, hilarious, ancient, and everywhere, and we shouldn’t be afraid

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Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images

By Christy Wampole

People have been awkward at least since the middle of the fourteenth century, when the word was coined in English. It means “moving in the wrong direction” (like “northward,” but awk + ward), zigging when a zag is in order. Even the spelling of “awkward” is awkward if you stare at the “k” sandwiched between two “w’s.”

Awkwardness is to be avoided at all costs, and people will go to great lengths to be sure that their interpersonal encounters contain as little awkwardness as possible. (This is why breaking up via text message is such a useful innovation; it lets you skirt that twitchy moment of definitive separation.) At the same time, awkwardness is one of the most turned-to sources for entertainment, inside or outside the media; there is something delightfully painful about witnessing awkward scenes. In his book Awkwardness, Adam Kotsko takes a celebratory position toward the phenomenon, tracing its history and philosophical underpinnings in Western culture and identifying its function in popular cinema and television. While it is nice to see someone embrace the concept as potentially productive for the human psyche, I want to think through its ubiquity in America, and piece together the possible repercussions for a populace that simultaneously avoids and steeps itself in this kind of social discomfort. …


I begin coughing uncontrollably, a wave of it crests, and then stops. I touch the tape on the windows.

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Photo: Josh Edelson/Getty Images

By Tiffany Higgins

Creamy yellow-orange light touches down on the lifted diagonals of the shipping cranes down by the port. Though I live on the other side of the lake, though I’d expect the burgeoning construction in downtown to block the view, somehow I can still peer through trees and buildings and across the gap of the lake to the wetlands, the marshlands of West Oakland, the brimming edge where shipping containers that have crossed the wide Pacific–sometimes spilling loads, red-beaked tub ducks bobbing to join the tract of plastic, the eighth continent–dock at the brink of the west coast, unload cargo from carmine-painted containers, shifted by workers’ hands. …


Uterine transplants are frontier science, but they offer hope of possibility for trans women and others seeking parenthood

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Photo: Zanel De Lange/EyeEm/Getty Images

By Belle Boggs

I n high school, Kristen Blessing was president of the science club, took calculus, and played the violin and earned As and Bs, but mostly As, in her advanced-placement courses. Genetically male and raised in the central North Carolina town of Fuquay-Varina, she remembers wishing — since childhood — for things she couldn’t have, like long hair and dresses and most of all for people to see her as she was: a girl. When she thought about her gender, or the way her outward appearance did not match the way she felt inside, she had the sensation of ants crawling all over her skin — “an awful feeling,” she remembers. She shoplifted clothes from Walmart — dresses and blouses and skirts, “whatever teenaged girls liked” — and hid them in her bedroom. …


I know how to stay safe among lions in the wild. Around men of my own species, things feel more complicated.

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Photo: CSA Images/Getty Images

By Lauren McCain

A lion roared in the night, blasting waves of guttural bass notes across the floor of the Kalahari valley. I felt the reverberations in my spine. The lion must have been within a quarter mile of my tent, and he sounded massive — probably more than 400 pounds, with canines as long as my index finger. A casual swat of his forepaw could kill me.

I slid the few inches from my bedroll onto the tent floor and pressed my abdomen into the canvas. Fighting sleep like a child, I soaked in the sensation and the sound. I wanted to bank it, bring it home, put a jar of it under my bed. …


A young Marine on being eighteen and deployed a few miles from the D.M.Z., meeting girls and waiting for ghosts

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Photo: U.S. Army/Flickr

By Curtis J. Graham

Everyone was named Katie here. The girl in leggings grinding on Overberg’s lap, the one Trumble was standing behind with a poolstick, the ones holding weak drinks and dancing with each other. The girls were around eighteen — the same as me — and they wore brightly colored American clothes. Jeans with rips, shirts with cleavage, short dresses that ended in shadow between their legs. And they smiled, with big straight teeth. They brushed their black hair from their faces and tipped back their heads and laughed. Everyone except the old woman behind the counter, who stood hunched and never smiled and snapped a towel between her fists. Jason Aldean was playing over loudspeakers, and even the guys from Maine started talking with a drawl. …

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Guernica Magazine

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