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“The only truth that I really know”: Prince Shakur confronts mortality in ‘When They Tell You to Be Good’

Prince Shakur, author of ‘When They Tell You to Be Good’ (Tin House Books).
Prince Shakur, author of ‘When They Tell You to Be Good’ (Tin House Books).

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with Prince Shakur, author of When They Tell You to Be Good (Tin House Books).

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 is a memoir that charts 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.

About Prince:

Prince Shakur is a queer, Jamaican-American freelance journalist, cultural essayist, and grassroots organizer with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Ohio University. His words have been featured in Teen Vogue, Catapult, Level, Electric Literature, and more. In addition, Shakur is the proud writer in residence at Sangam House, Twelve Arts, The Studios of Key West, and La Maison Baldwin.

Prince Shakur recommends:

Giovanni’s Room and One Day When I Was Lost: A Scenario Based on Alex Haley's the Autobiography of Malcolm X by James Baldwin (Vintage Books)

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon (Scribner)

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (Picador USA)

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books)

Lauren Korn recommends:

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (New Press)

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Vintage Books)

Sister Outsider (Crossing Press) and The Selected Works of Audre Lorde (with an introduction by Roxane Gay, W. W. Norton & Company) by Aurdre Lorde

Stay True by Hua Hsu (Doubleday Books)

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance (One World; Penguin Random House) and They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio) by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Having and Being Had by Eula Biss (Riverhead Books)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer, and editor; and Chris Moyles, co-producer, editor, and sound engineer.

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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