D. Watkins Talks to Baynard Woods about His Deeply Personal New Memoir
by Baynard Woods
Published May 11 in Baltimore Fishbowl
Excerpt: D Watkins is a writer. He’s an essayist, a screen writer, a columnist, a ghost-writer, a reporter, and a memoirist, but he’s not just any of those. He is all of them together, all of them at once, after the manner of someone like James Baldwin, whose writing spanned the breadth of our cultural forms. Watkins is probably best known for his memoir The Cook Up, which follows his life through the drug game and ultimately his escape from it through his discovery of literature.
Though it is easy to revel in the vividly portrayed details of the streets, the structure of the book is part of what makes it so remarkable. The story is put together through a series of subtle twists that keep the narrative and emotional stakes in a state of flux. His new book Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments is also defined by a structural and literary bravado, but it is also a new departure for Watkins. Addressing masculinity, fatherhood, love, and violence, the moments that make up the narrative are vulnerable and raw.
For full disclosure, we’re friends and I have edited D’s work and we’ve worked together and offered each other criticism and are on the same press. And Marion Winik, the editor of this piece and the series, has long worked with Watkins at the University of Baltimore where they are both professors and where he was once her student. But such connections only go to show how central Watkins is to Baltimore’s literary community.
We sat down at a restaurant near the UB after his class on a recent spring evening and talked. The following account has been edited for length and clarity.