cover image When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

Prince Shakur. Tin House, $27.95 (296p) ISBN 978-1-953534-42-2

In this electric debut, essayist and organizer Shakur turns an unflinching eye to the realities of growing up queer and Black amid the racialized violence and political backlash of recent decades. Coming-of-age as the son of Jamaican immigrants in Ohio in the early aughts, Shakur was haunted by his father’s absence and wounded by familial homophobia. While college brought opportunities for political action and fellowship forged by common values, Shakur details that it also stoked a more painful awareness of social injustice. “If America could not deliver me what I deserved as a young and curious Black person,” writes Shakur. “I deserved to try to find it where I could and not be overpowered by the kind of son or citizen I needed to be.” Recounting travels that take him from Costa Rica to the Philippines, as well as Ferguson, Mo., and Standing Rock, in the Dakotas, to protest, Shakur traces the perspective he gained while untangling the cords of trauma brought by microaggressions he weathered along the way. What emerges is a moving portrait of the artist as a young activist, powered by Shakur’s captivating prose, “the plywood, nails, and sails that sent me off into a world of my own making.” The result is a searing account of self-discovery in the face of structural oppression. (Oct.)