I ask for books (and clothes and jewelry and makeup) almost every year during the holiday season, but this year, I struck gold as all the nonfiction books I requested were gift wrapped under the tree for me. I’m thankful that my parents taught me and my sister to love reading as much as we do so we can constantly educate ourselves on new topics and learn how to write different styles in our own pieces. My wish list collection of books mainly focused on poetry chapbooks and justice literature surrounding the prison system (obviously). These six are my favorite justice and poetry books I received for Christmas.
Angela Davis is one of my greatest heroes in life, so I’ve been waiting to get my hands on her extraordinary research guide surrounding the prison industrial complex called, Are Prisons Obsolete? The book is short, but every page is like diving into a vat of knowledge, teaching me more about the subject about which I’m most passionate. I find that this book would be an amazing gift not only for hopeful prison abolitionists, but also for the everyday person who doesn’t know much about the brutal monster that is the prison system. James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk is a rare piece of fiction that I asked for after I watched the accompanying movie’s trailer (hello Barry Jenkins!) on repeat. The novel follows Tish and Fonny’s love story after the latter is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. I adore anything by James Baldwin, so a novel that incorporates both his writing and a wrongful incarceration is right up my alley. One of my favorite poets, Fatimah Asghar, wrote this incredible chapbook called If They Come For Us, which is a collection of poems narrating the author’s life as a Muslim woman in America and the many experiences she’s had of violence, trauma, and even sweet love. I can’t put this one down. I was surprised to discover that Surviving Justice: America’s Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated by Lola Vollen and Dave Eggers is a giant book full of firsthand accounts of those who have been wrongfully incarcerated in America. Each story has been as viciously heartbreaking and devastating as I could expect, but I’ve loved reading the endings of “justice” where each person is no longer in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Danez Smith is another one of my all-time favorite poets (following Clint Smith, Ross Gay, Sarah Kay, Olivia Gatwood, Claudia Rankine, José Olivarez, etc.) and Don’t Call Us Dead— his newest chapbook is a complete masterpiece. Danez writes mostly about the intersection of Blackness and Queerness in his own experiences and how he’s navigated those two identities in a world of racial injustice. His pieces have consistently made my jaw drop and inspires me to create in as honest ways as he does. Blood in the Water by Heather Ann Thompson is a thoroughly researched 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning book about the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising. I haven’t gotten to this one yet due to its intense size and subject matter, but I know it will make me furious and want to act on the atrocities that still plague the prison system today– nearly 50 years after the uprising itself. I will always love clothes and shoes, but there’s truly nothing like the gift of knowledge, which is why I’m so thankful for the justice and poetry books I received for Christmas.