James Robert Herndon


July 2014



Winner of the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Prize

A unique tale of love, commitment and redemption. In Mammals, an orphaned teenager sent to juvenile detention because of a violent crime becomes part of an odd experiment to see if he can learn about compassion and also teach it to another living creature. The story displays sensitivity without sentimentality and a sense of the strange that is grounded in very real emotions. A thoughtful and unusual gem.

Jeff Vandermeer, Judge of the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Prize and Bestselling Author of Annihilation and City of Saints and Madmen

About the Author

James Robert Herndon lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and the Clarion West Writers Workshop. His fiction has appeared in Halfway Down the Stairs, and is forthcoming in an anthology of stories by Clarion West graduates. When not writing, he enjoys woodworking and being outside with his wife. His website is

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The first person to visit me in prison was a stranger, about fifty years old and clearly not even a distant relative. He sat with exceptional posture, one hand cupping the fist of the other hand in his lap. The part in his black hair exposed a sharp white line of scalp. The pocket inside his suit jacket was filled with unsalted pretzel nuggets, and throughout our conversation, he slowly removed one nugget at a time, lifting it to his mouth and rubbing it against his large lips before biting into it. When I entered the visiting room, hoping to see you, this is who I encountered.

Dr. Au-Yong—that was his name—stood up when I entered, and extended his arm toward me. I’d never shaken a hand before, and it felt wrongly intimate, a little invasive even, to be touched by someone I didn’t know before anything else could happen. I noticed a starched white lab coat he’d folded neatly over a nearby chair.

“What do you know about Ailuropoda melanoleuca?” he asked.

No small talk about prison food or my dreams for the future. No effort made to act like a normal person and explain himself.

“I don’t know what that is,” I said.

“The giant panda, what do you know about it?”

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