The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


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ISBN: 978-1-62557-717-7
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Dominant Genes

Publication Date: February 2022


During the month of June, Black Lawrence Press will donate $1 to Rainbow Refugee for every copy of Dominant Genes sold through our website.

Winner of the Fall 2020 Black River Chapbook Competition

Dominant Genes, the new hybrid collection from Stonewall Honor author and Lambda Literary Award finalist SJ Sindu, is equal parts power and astonishing beauty, tenderness and shimmering anger, poetry and lyric essays interwoven in a gorgeous exploration of family, heritage, and the construction of nonbinary and queer identities. “We learn our anger through osmosis,” Sindu writes of the inherited rage of South Asian women, “or maybe it’s in the breast milk, spreading through our veins long before we learn how to look only at the floor and walk without showing our ankles.”

There is hope in this collection, and the lead weight of expectation, and warm moments of empathy too. Thematically linked and stylistically nimble, Sindu’s pieces play with the fragmentary nature of memory and identity, her speakers traversing with intelligence and compassion the complexities of mental health, love, and pressurized relationships with the people closest to us—those who love us intensely, even when they understand us the least.


My Parents Crossed an Ocean and Lost Me

I carved myself a new face. They searched and searched, and found God instead.

They built an altar for God in the office room closet. Sliding doors, LED lights, images of God in all his iterations—Vishnu, Parvati, Shiva, Murugan, even a tiny portrait of Jesus and a bottle of holy water shaped like the Virgin Mary, so as not to leave out the God of their new country.

My parents took to God like they took to America, like they took to money locked in savings accounts. We used to be penniless, stateless, godless. Like country, like money, God was a newish something.

My mother now spends her days praying. She and God have a thing. My father roams the empty rooms, fills them with the voices of angry white pundits on TV.

When I visit, we fight—God and I—for my parents’ affection. We’re siblings born too far apart in age to be friends.


In SJ Sindu’s extraordinary new chapbook, her speaker lives in a world in which women are punished for their pleasure, rage, and attempts at freedom. Exploring ancient stories, like the Mahabharata, as well as the speaker’s own experiences growing up as a queer person in Sri Lanka and the US, Dominant Genes pulls at the strings that have stitched together our identities, making clear the social and cultural constraints that limit the freedom of women and gender nonconforming people. With tenderness and compassion toward her family, this smart, unflinching collection envisions a life for the speaker in which she does not inherit misogyny or her mother’s idea of progress, a life in which she is the “seed in her own fruit.”

—Marianne Chan, author of All Heathens

SJ Sindu’s new book Dominant Genes demonstrates the great pleasures and opportunities for surprise there are in hybrid forms. It’s what I like best as a reader: prose that understands the compression and vivid language of poetry and poetry that benefits greatly from the fiction maker’s sense of scene and story. There’s a wonderful lyric intensity here and beautifully nuanced interiority that I find deeply moving. A beautiful book written by an artist who moves fluidly between genres.

—Erin Belieu, author of Come-Hither Honeycomb

“I want to inherit your anger, and use your story to stitch my two selves back together,” writes SJ Sindu in this hybrid collection, poems and lyric essays weaving together the fragments of a life bifurcated across racial, familial, and queer identities. Blurring both genre and gender, Sindu questions descendancy, dominant genes something to unspool, silence something to unstitch, rage a means of survival. Yet as this collection undoes Sri Lankan matrilineal expectation, pulling at the faithless thread of what it means to inherit a story that does not serve you, it spins a richer myth of legacy and self, one that pierces like a needle.

—Sarah Fawn Montgomery, author of Quite Mad

Dominant Genes is a perfect collection. Every word SJ Sindu writes holds me even tighter in a queer, tender, and irreplaceable embrace. I want to cry with the speaker. I want to hold the speaker’s hand. Most importantly, I want to be with the speaker through their feminine rage, which is more commanding than the waves of the ocean times infinity. This is a chapbook that sinks you right in, through the narratives of an island child pressured by their immigrant family of expectations of monogamy, marriage, children, and a “woman’s place.” Through all of this, the snake tongue prevails—enrages—and empowers decadently.
—Dorothy Chan, author of Revenge of the Asian Woman, Chinatown Sonnets, and Attack of the Fifty-foot Centerfold

The most thrilling feature of SJ Sindu’s Dominant Genes is its distinctive, multifaceted probing of expectation: the dynamic, often devastating, gap between what we hope for and what we live with. Sindu’s explorations of historical, societal, parental, and personal expectations—those tense and fertile convergences of duty, possibility, inevitability, and desire—yield piercing flashes of wonder, anger, insight, and joy. In her daring, masterful, genre-expanding work, Sindu enlivens and expands our expectations for what a collection can be and how writing can reveal, provoke, and inspire.
—Daniel Scott Tysdal, author of Wave Forms and Doom Scrolls, Fauxccasional Poems, and The Mourner’s Book of Albums

About the Author

© Sarah Bodri

SJ Sindu

SJ Sindu is a Tamil diaspora author of two literary novels, two hybrid chapbooks, and a forthcoming graphic novel. Her first novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, won the Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award and was a Stonewall Honor Book and a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Sindu’s second novel, Blue-Skinned Gods, was published in November 2021 by Soho Press, and her graphic novel, Shakti, is forthcoming from Harper Collins. Sindu's hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook, I Once Met You But You Were Dead, won the Turnbuckle Chapbook contest and was published by Split/Lip Press. A 2013 Lambda Literary Fellow, Sindu holds an MA in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a PhD in English and Creative Writing from Florida State University.

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