In Search of Pretty Young Black Men: A Novel

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The book's protagonist, Daniel Martins, is young, accomplished and enjoys the luxurious trappings afforded by the success of his own property development firm. Despite this, Daniel battles against myriad negative stereotypes he is expected to live up to because of the colour of his skin. Black Shoes offers a welcome relief from much of the "ghetto lit" being rung through cash registers across the UK and occupying increasing shelf space to the detriment of more serious works.

With their lurid depictions of gangsters, criminals, thugs, pimps and all-round ghetto-fabulousness, these books certainly don't represent my reality and I'm willing to wager, don't do much justice to many other black folks either. Victor Headley's Yardie trilogy found popular appeal among young black British males in the 90s, paving the way for a spate of similar books glamorising criminal lifestyles, much to the chagrin of many literary critics.

With dubious titles such as Hustlin' Backwards and Crack Head, these books boast characters who are "out to get rich by any means necessary", while in the process sampling "all the women [their] libidos can handle".

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The argument posited by advocates of ghetto lit is that it democratises literature , encouraging those who wouldn't otherwise pick up a book to get into the habit of reading, and it's a powerful line. However, if care is not taken, these books are likely to do more harm than good, allowing readers to become complacent with lazy, destructive stereotypes and offering an altogether bleak outlook for black literature. Black readers must realise that there's much more to be had from the books that bear their faces than the unimaginative prose, violent stock characters and trite plotlines offered by ghetto lit.

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Which makes one wonder why, despite the Diran Adebayos and Ekow Eshuns, there are so few positive and multidimensional black male voices in commercial fiction? As well as some black writers and readers not challenging themselves enough, it may be that publishers simply aren't willing to view characters of colour outside of the narrow prism to which they have become accustomed.

But I am yet to read a book by a white author where they have a group of friends that are black — or just more diverse. It may exist — I am happy to be corrected — but I am yet to read it. There are so many tensions that we just discuss. Dating as a black woman in Britain can be fraught with hostility, microaggressions and fetishisation. Her deteriorating mental state is mirrored by the levels of appalling treatment she will accept from the various men in her life.

And this is happening constantly.

In Search of Pretty Young Black Men

I really wanted to explore that notion. And also what happens when dating and sex become instantaneous — what does that do to our sense of value. How many is too many to sign? This is too many.

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This is only a quarter. Brought up in an environment where mental illness was taboo, Candice knows just how important it is to normalise conversations about mental health. They told me they thought I had a stomach bug. I have torn a hole in my esophagus as a result of the reflux it caused me. And there is this pervasive discourse about strength in black communities.

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We always have to be seen as strong — physically and spiritually. There is never any time for weakness. There is so much to unpack there and there is still so much taboo around it.

And it also fits in perfectly with the classic quarter-life crisis that Queenie is going through. Candice wrote Queenie for herself and for younger versions of herself. Elevating the narratives of black women and allowing people to understand how they experience the world — it could open eyes and challenge perceptions.

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Queenie is flawed, she makes mistakes — like we all do, we are human. So allowing Queenie to be a real person allows people to properly identify with her and see themselves in her as well.