Pravin pic 1Pravin Wilkins is a playwright, poet, fiction writer & educator from San Diego, California. From performing spoken word poetry at #NoDAPL fundraisers to putting up an award-winning play (#takebackgraffitihall) in support of UC San Diego protests against the closure of the University Art Gallery to his more current work surrounding NFL player protests against police brutality and systemic racism, his writing consistently engages with race & class struggle (as well as the many intersections between). He is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, where he received his MFA in Dramatic Writing. He plans to spend much of his time as a City Books Writer-in-Residence returning to a novel he began as an undergraduate honors thesis project, titled “Burning in the Melting Pot.” He is thrilled to be a part of Pittsburgh’s literary & creative communities. All profits from the sale of Prav’s Picks through the following Bookshop links will be donated to the Bukit Bail Fund of Pittsburgh, except where noted.

1. tender, a literary anthology and book of spells: evidence, by various artists, edited by Deesha Philyaw & Vanessa German

tender, a compilation of short works by Black women authors in the Pittsburgh area, is described in its introduction as “a balm made for ourselves, that we now share with you.” As a community, while we continue the work of unpacking, understanding, and dismantling the systems that oppress Black folks (and specifically Black women) in Pittsburgh & across the country, we must also hold up and celebrate works that exemplify the persistent and profound acts of healing that Black people perform every single day in their minds, homes, and communities. tender offers a fascinating formal journey between personal narrative, photograph, poetry, and visual art that invites the reader into these sometimes painful, always empowering moments. (Profits benefit 1Hood.)

2. M. by Christian St. Croix

M., a collection of short prose & poetry pieces told from a queer Black perspective, eases in the reader through its apparent straight-forwardness, but ultimately challenges one to build context through small snippets of life and love—to visualize a whole after seeing every ridge of every little piece of a gorgeous mosaic. The narration is hilariously candid and often sexually charged—reading M. feels like reading a hundred delightfully witty Facebook posts from a very forthright friend. (Sidenote: Christian St. Croix is an amazing up-and-coming playwright—keep a lookout for his name)

3. Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

Easily #1 on my list of “books they should have taught us in high school.” In this
unapologetically-narrated autobiography, THE revolutionary of our era sets the record straight on her time as a Black Panther and freedom fighter. Using poetry that she had written over the course of her life as the emotional moorings for her story, Shakur crafts a modern American masterpiece that should be on every single person’s home bookshelf. I’m serious. This is essential reading that the government would prefer we never touched—they don’t like when we learn from and celebrate stories of the revolutionaries who beat them, whom they couldn’t manage to destroy.

4. Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton

Like Assata, this is another essential work from an often-demonized Black revolutionary. What stands out about this piece as an autobiographical work is Newton’s exceptional ability to introspect, to admit fault, to step back from his personal investments and present a thoughtful rumination on his life & the formation of the Black Panthers. Newton also provides detailed global and historical contextualization for his revolutionary ideology. The philosophical concept proposed in the title and clarified in the narrative truly does transcend his own story, and provides a blueprint—and a warning—for all who seek revolutionary change.

5. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday by Angela Davis

The relationship between Black music and resistance is documented exceptionally well in this book. Davis holds up an academic lens to an artistic movement, and the result is an illuminating journey through history and expression. A hint for those who purchase this book: listen to the music it references as you read; if you have trouble listening to music while reading, take breaks in between to play these songs. Even if you know them, I feel this is the best way to really pick up what Davis is putting down—not just in your mind, but in your body as well.

6. Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora

Unaccompanied is a harrowing and unforgettable collection of poems told from the perspective of a young Salvadoran asylum seeker. Through visceral imagery and multilingual poetics— through a non-chronoligical whirlwind-exploration of memory, family, and place—Zamora humanizes people that we in the U.S. have been told are “aliens.” This collection of poems is the sort that you could read 20 times and still have more to learn from another read-through.

7. They Can’t Kill Us All by Wesley Lowery

In this non-fiction book, Lowery places a journalistic lens upon the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement. Facts and research reign supreme in this piece, but it stands out in the pantheon of journalism in its willingness to suggest action based on these facts. While some sticklers might say “oh, well that isn’t what journalism is about!” I would suggest that the best journalism sheds the faulty assumption that we as members of this society are capable of commenting objectively on any social movements. In my view, this book represents the best of reporting: a fact-based analysis that does not attempt to keep the issues it covers at arm’s length.

8. Nonviolence Ain’t What it Used to Be: Unarmed Insurrection and the Rhetoric of Resistance by Shon Meckfessel

This is an indispensable book for this current moment, in which we are seeing—in the wake of the protests against police murder & systemic racism that swept the nation after video footage was released of Officer Derek Chauvin’s brutal murder of George Floyd—the re-emergence of arguments surrounding the concepts of non-violence vs. violence as tactics of resistance. Through an academic analysis of the Occupy Protests, the early Black Lives Matter protests, and other social movements of the last decade, Meckfessel engages directly with important conversations of the present day. He offers very thorough critiques and arguments on questions like “what is the difference between a riot and a protest?”, “do riots work?”, and “what is more valuable, life or property?”

9. Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

A classic play, and the first piece in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, Gem of the Ocean provides a window into the history of the now-gentrified Hill District. This riveting journey through truth and myth (and the emotional truth of myth) demonstrates that conflict between oppressive police & the Black community is really nothing new. Set over a hundred years ago, this story is one that resonates to this day.

10. Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley

One of the most thoroughly-researched books I have ever read, this nonfiction exploration of the decades-long War on Drugs presents a horrifying story of bipartisanship regarding the U.S. goal to control, through force, the economies of Latin American nations. Administrations have come and gone, Democrats have replaced Republicans who have replaced Democrats, but all have contributed to this horrifying blend of Monroe-Doctrine politics and “containment” interventionism. The War on Drugs is often analyzed by American scholars only through its (albeit extremely detrimental) effects on people of color—and specifically Black people—within U.S. borders; in Drug War Capitalism, Paley provides a crucial global perspective on this subject.

11. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid, in his novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, utilizes a satirical “how-to” format and a second-person narrative structure to critique the outcome of people’s arguably misguided obsession with obtaining material wealth. Far from a one-size-fits-all manual for getting rich (quite the opposite, actually), Hamid’s novel tells the very occasionally triumphant, quite often tragic story of what happens to a person who gets sucked into a modern Gatsbyan pursuit of a materialistic dream, set in an incredibly dynamic “rising Asia.”

12. The End of Policing by Alex Vitale

This book sheds light on the radicalism of the status quo. While “defunding the police” is often portrayed in American media as a radical perspective, Vitale presents a counter-argument: that the truly radical perspective is assuming policing can effectively maintain through violence a racist-capitalist system that is simply not working for most people—including most white people. The question at the heart of this nonfiction book is this: in a nation where we are imprisoning more people than anywhere else on Earth, how can we shift our solutions to crime from control-oriented to community-oriented?

13. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

This is my favorite novel of all time. A masterpiece of South Asian literature, The God of Small Things is a tragedy that decries the injustices of the caste system in India. The morals presented, and the beauty celebrated, in this novel transcend the borders of my mother’s home country. This is a story for all of us.

14. Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis

Yes, of course Angela Davis appears twice on this list! She’s only, like, my greatest personal idol. Anyways, in Are Prisons Obsolete?, Davis poses a question (and provides an answer) to one of the most appalling problems of modern-day America: our ridiculously high prison population. Since every politician in the country seems to have an opinion on this issue but none of them want to talk about the facts, let’s tune out all those clowns and buy this book so we can listen to what Mama Angela has to teach us.

15. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald

This book is an excellent journalistic look at the erosion of the Fourth Amendment in post-Patriot Act America. The same way we typically look at the War on Drugs as a domestic and not a global issue, we often analyze the War on Terror as a global and not a domestic issue. Greenwald explains in detail how the expanded powers of the government during the Bush era—ostensibly as a response to terrorism—have never been reigned in; the government has only continued its overreach into our personal lives, even long after it was clear that the War on Terror was an utter failure. Beyond the fact that our prisons are overflowing, our claims to being the “land of the free” are challenged yet again in this examination of the manufactured consent produced by mass surveillance.

16. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

It was not until I read this book in high school that I realized I had spent my whole childhood applying white standards of beauty to my brown self. In this haunting exploration of how Eurocentric beauty concepts infest the minds of people of color in this country, Morrison implicates all of us in the abuse of Black women in the U.S. This book is a sort of American companion piece to The God of Small Things in that it centers those who have been most exploited, and most often cast aside. It is not easy reading, but it is of utmost importance.

17. A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying by Laurie Ann Guerrero

This book of poetry oscillates from tenderness to viscerality and back without wasting a second. It will give you emotional whiplash, and that’s a good thing. Guerrero also has a special talent for realizing physical sensation. Her story centers working Latina women who navigate a world so overflowing with sights, smells, and feelings as to be almost fanstastical—the catch is, it is tremendously real.

18. Dark Alliance: the CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion by Gary Webb

This nonfiction book can be seen as a companion piece to Drug War Capitalism. In Dark Alliance, journalist Gary Webb establishes for us the connection between the global War on Drugs and the domestic War on Drugs. The means by which the United States’ global oppression of people of color connects to its local oppression of people of color is illustrated in detail here. This book puts research and facts behind ugly truths that many in the U.S. intuitively understand—and that many others would like to paint as conspiracy.

19. Blakwork by Allison Whittaker

A poetry collection from aboriginal Australian author Allison Whittaker, Blakwork is an odyssey through numerous poetic forms. The whole of the piece can be seen as a dissection of what “Blakwork” means; I took it to represent the exceptional physical, emotional, and psychologial labor demanded of Black populations across the globe, especially within apartheid states. This book reminds us that centuries of colonialism & imperialism spearheaded by Western nations has globalized anti-Blackness, and that dismantling these systems is not just “Black work.”