When They Tell You To Be Good
Prince Shakur’s debut memoir brilliantly mines his radicalization and self-realization through examinations of place, childhood, queer identity, and a history of uprisings.
Winner of the Hurston/Wright Crossover Award
After immigrating from Jamaica to the United States, Prince Shakur’s family is rocked by the murder of Prince’s biological father in 1995. Behind the murder is a sordid family truth, scripted in the lines of a diary by an outlawed uncle hell-bent on avenging the murder of Prince’s father. As Shakur begins to unravel his family’s secrets, he must navigate the strenuous terrain of coming to terms with one’s inner self while confronting the steeped complexities of the Afro-diaspora.
When They Tell You to Be Good charts Prince Shakur’s political coming of age from closeted queer kid in a Jamaican family to radicalized adult traveler, writer, and anarchist in Obama and Trump’s America. Shakur journeys from France to the Philippines, South Korea, and elsewhere to discover the depths of the Black experience, and engages in deep political questions while participating in movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock. By the end, Shakur reckons with his identity, his family’s immigration to the US before his birth, and the intergenerational impacts of patriarchal and colonial violence.
Examining a tangled web of race, trauma, and memory, When They Tell You to Be Good is a powerful interrogation of what we all must ask of ourselves to be more than what America envisions for the oppressed and Shakur compels readers to take a closer, deeper look at the political world of young, Black, queer, and radical millennials today.
A story that combines so much—sociocultural criticism, religion, and politics while centering on the microcosm of one Jamaican family and the aftermath of two male relatives’ untimely deaths. . . . Commands a tension and doesn’t release you well after the last sentence.
—Morgan Jerkins, New York Times bestselling author of This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America
When They Tell You To Be Good is a swirl of indelible images, language and action that adds up to a daring coming-of-age memoir unbound by chronological time. Here, Prince Shakur insists on the irreducability of history, family, masculinity, race, identity, and geography. He refuses to allow manufactured borders between political, personal, and spiritual storytelling. This beautiful, antic, and deeply felt book makes the claim that love is not an emotion as much as it is a large and mysterious storm, encompassing deep pain and unbearable gulfs yet always reaching for attachment and understanding. I love the anarchic confidence with which Shakur claims visionary thinkers and writers right alongside the people in his neighborhood, his family, friends and comrades as his intellectual and emotional companions, establishing intimate, playful, heartbreaking and powerful connections across all boundaries. I know we will be hearing much more from this irrepressible new literary voice.