Prince Shakur, one of the four visiting writers for Ball State’s In-Print festival in March 2023, just recently published ‘When They Tell You to Be Good” in 2022 and won the Hurston/Wright Crossover Award. When not writing, Prince Shakur focuses on his traveling, social justice responsibilities, and his passion to let his art be seen.
I think the drive behind my writing has changed a lot from my younger days. As a teenager and in college, I think I was writing more for a sense of adventure that I wanted in my life and the complicated aspect of this is that in most of the literature I was given growing up, adventure equated to whiteness. So many of my younger characters were white kids in the suburbs or far-off lands. I hadn’t been given the narrative landscape yet to imagine how beautiful and troubling black people’s adventures can be.
Then came Michael Brown’s murder by police and Black Lives Matter and graduating college. Through all of that change and radicalization, writing became more of a tool of observation, of survival and reckoning, and realizing that I belong to a deep history of black people that make art, strive to do more than survive but seek liberation, and try to heal along the way. Now, my art is much more focused on truth-seeking or mending bridges between social systems that tear us down or bring us together. I strive to see the world a bit differently in my writing.
My love for travel and going to Jamaica at an early age makes me careful in how I write about travel. I never want to wholly romanticize or villainize a place. And as a black traveler, there are so many layers to how I receive a place and how it receives me. I think these contradictions make writing about travel difficult sometimes, but that difficulty is also based in a love for a deeper truth that I have. And a belief that travel shouldn’t be easy when it involves reckoning with our privilege or subjugation or lack of control over our cultural image globally.
It could also be the slow traveler in me, but I also find it hard to write about places I’ve only visited for a few days, rather than weeks or months.
My love for social justice changes the responsibility of writing for me. Not only is it a way to express myself, but it’s also a way to imagine a better world, a better way of people to relate to each other, resolve conflict or break themselves free. Through my characters, I get to ask questions about social systems that are not as easy to ask in my actual life. I say it all the time, both liberation and art are acts of imagination. Both take practice.
I’ve learned that I can have different modes in writing and depending on my mood or energy level, tapping in different modes or switching to another project can be easier. Burnout is real when your entire career is making art in some sense, whether that art is creative or is more technical. Switching to other forms gives different parts of my brain a rest.