Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/02/1993 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>Trey Ellis


"AN OWNER'S MANUAL FOR WOMEN about men" is how Trey Ellis, 30, describes his risqué and comic coming-of-age novel. "I wanted women to feel that they were learning some male trade secrets," he says. "And I hope men find something they'll recognize but maybe haven't expressed."

Ellis admits that a character who, like himself, is a product of Phillips Academy, Andover, and Stanford, challenges conventional views of black men. "Usually black male characters seem so tough, so street. But Austin is not that self-confident. He's not special or weird—I really think he's an Everyman. Unfortunately, there are people who still try to pigeonhole black men and see us only as Africa, as a problem, or as something to be pitied or feared."

Born in Washington, son of a psychiatrist and a psychologist, Ellis speaks Italian, has lived in Europe and hitchhiked through Africa. Engaged to Erika Wright, 30, a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA, he lives in Santa Monica and is at work on two film projects: The Inkwell, a comedy set on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., and Home Repairs, optioned by Denzel Washington. "From the beginning I wanted to be a comedy writer. I was too shy to do stand-up. No one would hire me at Saturday Night Live and SCTV, so I went off and wrote Platitudes."

Ellis enjoys skydiving and surfing. "I want my books to be iconoclastic and my life to be at least as unusual and adventurous," he says. "That's the thing: You can be black and surf. They are not mutually exclusive."

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