When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

Prince Shakur

Book cover for When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir
Book cover for When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

When They Tell You to Be Good: A Memoir

Prince Shakur

  • Become a member to save 30% on all book orders, plus a variety of great perks. Simply add any book to cart and you’ll see an option to become a member
  • 100% of this book's profits go to our community of authors.
Get 50% off your first order, and then 30% off everything
Member Book Price
Monthly Membership
First month free, renews at $5.00

Already a member? Log In To Access Member Price

  • Allstora Membership will renew at $5/month, cancel any time. Learn More


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 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, 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 shines a light on what we all must ask of ourselves--to be more than what America envisions for the oppressed--as Shakur compels readers to take a closer, deeper look at the political world of young, Black, queer, and radical millennials today.

Critical Reviews

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

Electric. . . . moving. . . . captivating. . . . A searing account of self-discovery in the face of structural oppression.-- "Publishers Weekly"

This memoir of trauma, identity, and race will move you. Move you to tears. Move you to action. Shakur's exploration of self is revelatory. He is the voice for readers forgotten by publishing.-- "Debutiful"

A daring coming-of-age memoir. . . . 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.--madeline ffitch

As inspiring as it is detailed. . . . Intelligently explores the complicated yet straightforward relationship many men of all colors deal with: the subject of race.--Zeke Thomas

Shakur writes from a place of honesty that is both searing and poignant in its transparency. His story will resonate deeply for those who hold hidden stories of sadness and grief tightly behind a smiling public mask.--Khadijah Ali-Coleman

In When They Tell You to Be Good, Prince Shakur attempts to make sense of being born into, flung into, both the maw of American violence and the legendary lures and pressures of Babylon. While reckoning with the history of the murders of family members in Jamaica alongside the American state's history of murdering its Black beings, Prince charts a path through his queerness, his family history, films, literature, the Black radical tradition, as well as his own twin cultures, until an activist, a rigorously-fought-for sense of morality, and the contours of a lucid self comes into view. This is how I've come to locate myself in time and space and legacy, Prince seems to say, while unraveling a map of his own life. With When They Tell You to Be Good's evergreen pairing of both finesse and confidence, it's miraculous to witness Prince assert that he is his own best cartographer.--Bernard Ferguson

A scorching, nonlinear journey through a Black man's search for self.-- "Kirkus Reviews"

Excellent.-- "Book Riot"

Engaging--a tribute to resilience, and to building a better world.-- "them"

Clear-eyed and unsentimental, an insightful, beautifully written memoir of family and identity.-- "Booklist"

Wrestles with the seemingly impossible task of fighting injustice globally.-- "The Week"

Moving, illuminating, occasionally gorgeous and often powerful.-- "Philadelphia Inquirer"

Magnetic.-- "TIME"

Explores his childhood as a queer child of Jamaican immigrants in 2000s Ohio, his travels in response to America's failure to 'deliver me what I deserved as a young and curious Black person' and his reckonings with colonial and patriarchal violence.-- "The New York Times"

Demonstrates a talent for self-examination, not to mention literary prowess. . . . His confidence and self-awareness enable him to identify life lessons in the moment.-- "Washington Post"

Powerful. . . . both intellectual and deeply emotional. . . . His memories, presented here with grace and care, will likely help others.-- "The Columbus Dispatch"

Fearless.-- "West Trade Review"

Unflinchingly honest. . . . a deeply layered creative nonfiction work.-- "Electric Literature"


In this autobiography, Shakur, a queer, Jamaican American essayist and activist, charts his political journey as he reckons with his identity, his family's immigration from Jamaica, and the intergenerational impacts of patriarchal and colonial violence.--New York Public Library

One of the most moving books of the year, a poignant story of trauma and identity.-- "Largehearted Boy"

An artful debut.-- "New Pages"

Remarkable.-- "Okayplayer"

Riveting. . . . What a wonderful and bold voice.-- "Library Journal"

An intimate view of a young Black man entering a world of pain but coming out the other side with wisdom and hope.-- "Hippocampus Magazine"

Confident. . . . sharp, engrossing.-- "Gulf Coast"

Prince's journey is one that emphasizes the value in exploring one's uncertainties, but also the courage that it takes to grapple with the answers one might find at the end of it all.-- "Ligeia Magazine"

Moments of insight that will ring true for many readers, told in well-constructed prose. . . . Shakur is undoubtedly a talented writer with a lot to say.-- "Gay & Lesbian Review"

Publishing Information

Publisher: Tin House Books
Pub date: 2022-10-04
Length: 296 pages
View full details

The Allstora Membership

Membership Perks:

  • Save 30% on all online store purchases
  • Exclusive access to author's content
  • You pay less, but authors still earn double

Membership Terms:

First Month: $0.00
Monthly price: $5.00
  • To access membership discount simply log in and add to cart, discount applied automatically.
  • One month free trial, cancel anytime. Membership renews on the 15th of each month.