Black Boy Smile

A Memoir in Moments


By D. Watkins

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New York Times bestselling and award-winning author presents a complex story about his coming-of-age journey as a Black boy, from the societal roots of trauma to finding joy.

"If I had two wishes, it would be that D. Watkins spend an entire book writing through the terrifying wonder of Black boyness in America, and for every human to read and share this book. I am shaken. Black Boy Smile changed my relationship to writing and me."―Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy and winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal
At nine years old, D. Watkins has three concerns in life: picking his dad’s Lotto numbers, keeping his Nikes free of creases, and being a man. Directly in his periphery is east Baltimore, a poverty-stricken city battling the height of the crack epidemic just hours from the nation’s capital. Watkins, like many boys around him, is thrust out of childhood and into a world where manhood means surviving by slinging crack on street corners and finding oneself on the right side of pistols. For thirty years, Watkins is forced to safeguard every moment of joy he experiences or risk losing himself entirely. Now, for the first time, Watkins harnesses these moments to tell the story of how he matured into the D. Watkins we know today—beloved author, college professor, editor-at-large of, and devoted husband and father.

Black Boy Smile lays bare Watkins’s relationship with his father and his brotherhood with the boys around him. He shares candid recollections of early assaults on his body and mind and reveals how he coped using stoic silence disguised as manhood. His harrowing pursuit of redemption, written in his signature street style, pinpoints how generational hardship, left raw and unnurtured, breeds toxic masculinity. Watkins discovers a love for books, is admitted to two graduate programs, meets with his future wife, an attorney—and finds true freedom in fatherhood.  

Equally moving and liberating, Black Boy Smile is D. Watkins’s love letter to Black boys in concrete cities, a daring testimony that brings to life the contradictions, fears, and hopes of boys hurdling headfirst into adulthood. Black Boy Smile is a story proving that when we acknowledge the fallacies of our past, we can uncover the path toward self-discovery. Black Boy Smile is the story of a Black boy who healed.


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A Note to the Reader

Some names in this book have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty. Certain quotes and conversations have been reconstructed from memory.

A Letter to My Daughter

Dear Cross,

I love you.

I’ve loved you since May 14, 2019, the day when your mother asked me to buy a pregnancy test. No one in the world knows their body better than your mother—she can feel a cold coming on three weeks before hacking out the first cough. So, when she asked for the test, disappeared into the bathroom, and reappeared with her smile, the smile that makes me fall in love over and over again, the smile you inherited—I knew you were coming, and that love grew. And that love will continue to grow and fill my spirit in ways I’ve never known, and I may never fully be able to understand its depths—but if I am ever to attempt, then I must go back to the beginning.

This is the beginning of you.

Introduction: The Lie

“In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity.”

—bell hooks, The Will to Change

“My muva and grandmuva make the best seafood salad for reallllll, I’m tellin’ you,” Kavon said. The streets nicknamed him Burger, because he was big, dark brown, and lumpy, with a flat spotty face that looked just like an overcooked burger. Burger was only a few years older, but triple my size. “Shit is sooooooooooo good, man, don’t debate me,” he spat, stuffing the mashed-up shrimp deep into his mouth, globs of wet mayonnaise oozing down his wide puffy jaws.

“Mmmmmmmmm, mmmm, mmmmmm,” he groaned, wiping the chunky off-white filth away from the corners of his mouth.

It was about two weeks before our first day of school. We were posted on the corner of Ashland Avenue, in front of a slouched redbrick collapsing row house that had been boarded up longer than any of us could remember. All us boys were baked a shade darker than our real complexions from riding our bikes, hooping, and swimming at the rec center in the ninety-degree weather every day. The happy bunch of us were all summertime ashy in tank tops with socks pulled up to our knees. Burger eclipsed our edge of the block as he shoved more of that cocktail of canned shrimp, corner store mayo, and imitation crab-meat-shit that he swore was seafood salad into his nasty mouth. He was spooning it out of a tan faded plastic Country Crock bowl that used to be a margarine container a long time ago—everybody from our block used them as bowls when the fake butter inside had run out.

“That stuff stink!” I accidentally mumbled. Shit. Fear instantly shot through me as the thought escaped my mouth. What in the fuck is wrong with me? Every kid in the neighborhood knew Burger could beat the shit out of everybody, even the adults, and he was glad to, for any reason––we all held countless stories detailing the way Burger swung his puffy scarred mitts against somebody’s teeth, so why would I comment, unless I wanted to be next? Did I lose my fuckin’ mind?

My friend Troy who was with us looked at me like I had three heads with a “Are you fucking crazy?” face and then went back to his Game Boy. As my heart sank into the bottom of my stomach, all I could hear was Troy’s bony fingers clicking away on Mario Brothers, and Burger shoving more of that shit into his mouth like, “Muuuuuuuummmmmmmm, so good.”

Burger was a bully in every sense of the word. He always started fights and finished them. He was bigger than grade school teachers, bigger than the principal, and bigger than his big brother, who was also a bully. We were only friends with him to avoid being on the wrong side of his fist. Once he’d run up on the school bus and knocked out the driver. POW! Burger’s fist blasted right on top of his face. The driver went straight to sleep and only the ambulance crew and their fists full of ammonia tablets could wake him. He’d only done that because someone had dared him to. That was Burger, and that’s the kind of things Burger liked to do. Pissing him off had me so shook that I could’ve shit myself, until I realized that he probably didn’t hear me.

After Burger sopped up the last of the “seafood” salad, he trained his eyes on Troy’s Game Boy. “I wanna play, yo, I got next,” he said, snatching it out of Troy’s hands. Troy and I were the only kids in the neighborhood with Game Boys, as most parents didn’t have $90 to spend on a handheld game console. But what Burger’s mom couldn’t buy him, he took.

“Come on, man! I was about to win Mario!” Troy protested.

Burger shrugged, looked at Troy, and breathed, “I should sell this shit.”

“Come on, man!” Troy pleaded.

Us kids were just starting to see the effects of crack cocaine, or what the streets called ready rock, ready, or crack—a cheaper, rock-like, smokable form of powder cocaine. Crack hit our neighborhood like a missile, and nobody saw it coming. Respected coaches, the flyest uncles, and the prettiest teenage girls had morphed into funky, stealing, toothless addicts that roamed the block like zombies all day and night looking for crack. Many of the top dealers were teenagers driving brand-new Acura Legends, Nissan Pathfinders, 300Zs, and 5 Series BMWs, bossing other kids, beating the snot and shit out of grown men begging for a rock, and fucking bent-over grown women in the alley who needed a blast. Kids like me, Troy, and Burger were the young soldiers, next in line—so we had to be tough, because the older kids were always watching, offering us money, work, making sure we represented the neighborhood and carried ourselves like men.

We weren’t men, and didn’t really want to be men, we wanted to be kids, but had to always act like men, whatever that meant—it was all a lie. And I quickly learned how to be a liar. As a matter of fact, I mastered it.

“Yo, give it back!” Troy yelled at Burger, who was holding his Game Boy up in the air out of our reach. “Come on, I was about to win! Give it back, yo!”

Burger laughed, mushed Troy’s forehead against the brick wall, and put the game into his pocket. Defeated, Troy slumped down on the steps and wrapped his face up inside of both of his hands. A few girls, Nay Nay, Mia, Ki Ki, and Lil Shannon, made their way over to the corner. Burger, realizing that he had a more attractive audience now, whipped the Game Boy back out.

“Y’all freaks wanna free Game Boy?” he teased. Collectively, they all rolled their eyes and popped their necks in annoyance.

I looked in Troy’s eyes, saw them filling, becoming wet glossy slits, hungry to spill over—Burger had tested us before, knocked us down, gave us wedgies and wet willies, but he never took anything from us, he took things from other kids all of the time, but not us, because we were a part of his crew. This was new, and painful.

“Let me give your lil game back,” Burger said, approaching Troy on the steps. “You look like you gonna cry, like a lil bitch. Why you always around him, D? He a bitch!”

“He ain’t a bitch,” I pushed back, regretfully.

Troy looked away. The girls were scribbling hopscotch squares in the middle of the street with broken-off pieces of fat chalk when they stopped to look. Nay Nay’s expression toward me mirrored a deer’s gaze in the brightest of headlights. I liked her, so though I was scared, my fear masqueraded as rage. I swallowed my throat, feeling the sweat form into dots of Braille that stretched across my forehead. “Burger, why you gotta be so extra all of the time, man?” I said with my chest poked out and my face twisted into an angry question mark. “Give his fuckin’ game back!”

That was the start of my lie, knowingly pretending that I wasn’t terrified.

Instead of pummeling me on the spot, Burger turned and spit a piece of shrimp shell that must have been resting in between his jumbled teeth onto Troy’s face. The warm slimy shell that was the size of a flake stuck to the center of his forehead and everyone watched as it slid down his nose, leaving a slippery trail.

“Ewwwwwwww,” one of the girls shouted. “He nastyyyyyy!”

Burger erupted in triumphant laughter.

Troy wiped his face, and caught the tear that finally slipped out.

“Yo, leave him alone, Burger—you fat bitch, what the fuck!” I yelled.

“Chill, yo!” Troy shouted.

And suddenly I felt my body being swooped into the heavens and then planted deeply into the roots of the concrete, followed by a hailstorm of fists tagging my nose, forehead, and both of my eyes. As he beat me, Burger dug into my pockets. This was his reward system, what he had earned for stomping me out—he got me for a few dollars, my Now and Laters, Lemonheads, and everything else I had. I managed to break away, running down Ashland Avenue faster than Flo Jo.

Burger was yelling after me, “You bitch-ass nigga! You can’t come around here no more!”

I kept running and running and running, feeling my eye tighten as tears dried down my cheeks.

I ran up all the way through Madeira Street, down Jefferson, over to Robinson where I lived. “D, what’s wrong, are you okay?” a couple of people asked during my marathon. I only stopped briefly to say, “I’m great!”—they knew that I was lying. Anyone with eyes could clearly see that I wasn’t okay by the look of despair tattooed on my face, a look I’ve never learned to hide. My broken facial expression created the foundation that my lies were built on as I grew from a boy to a man. It became my default.

I don’t have a poker face; my egghead and my blank stare that drifts off into space mirror exactly how I feel on the inside. When I’m angry, my forehead slopes and the meat under my eyebrows puffs up—this is when I shut down. I don’t talk. I struggle to think past anything that isn’t revenge. And when I’m happy, my cheeks inflate like party balloons and sit on top of a smile wide enough to wrap around my entire head—this is when I open up. I can’t stop talking. I struggle to think past anything that doesn’t involve me emptying my wallet and giving everything to everyone around me. My pain, like my joy, has always been clearly visible, yet I lie. The lies are self-justified by understanding that the Are-you-okay? askers can’t do anything anyway. The Burgers of the world could and would steal your money and beat the shit out of you, too.

When I got home, I headed straight toward the bathroom to clean myself up. Once inside, I locked the door and then stared at myself in the mirror—on the other side was everything a man wasn’t, a chump with a bruised face and a knot the size of a tennis ball forming above my eyelid.

“What happened to your eye?” Mom asked, as soon as I exited the bathroom.

“Dammmmmmmn,” Dad enthusiastically followed, sipping a Coke. “Dammmmmmmn!”

“I fell down playing basketball,” I lied, on my way into hiding.

*  *  *

I was a prisoner in my home for over a week after the attack. I ran like a punk, was humiliated, and felt like I didn’t deserve to go outside or have fun with the rest of the kids, doing the things that kids in the summer do. I could see Burger’s blubbery jaws bouncing up and down, laughing at me. I could hear Nay Nay along with the girls clutching their stomachs as they laughed too at the way I ran, without fighting back. I wanted to stay locked away in my room forever, but school was starting in a few days and I knew I would eventually have to confront them all.

“Are you ready for school?” my mother asked. “This summer blew by.”

“It did,” I answered.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “I know when something is wrong with you.”

“I’m fine,” I said.

“Okay, you figured that lock out yet?”

I pulled the Master Lock out, held it up in front of her—three times one way, two times the other way, and straight to the last number, click. She raised her thin eyebrows in that I’m impressed gesture and made her way down the hall. I laid back on my bed and watched my dusty ceiling fan whip around and around. I wasn’t being who I was supposed to be. I don’t get bullied, I thought, I shouldn’t fear anyone, I am me.

And then it all came to me one night while binge watching a day’s worth of cartoons and sitcoms that destiny was mine, I was responsible for my own hero story. From Transformers to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to Boyz n the Hood, the hero always had victory, as long as he had a plan. I needed to do something that no one else was willing to do to erase the icky feeling that Burger left me with. I needed to win.

So I took the lock that my mom had given me, dropped it into a long sock, and tied it into a knot. Then I put on my Nike Air Max sneakers, which were much lighter than all of my Jordans and the shoes that I could run the fastest in—and I bolted over to Madeira, swinging the long knotted sock like nunchakus. Burger, along with some of the girls, including Nay Nay, a bunch of other kids, a collection of addicts, and the dealers that always decorated the block were there. Everything was the same, nothing had changed in my absence. Burger was knee-deep in a dice game with some older dudes, sweating like a hog, screaming his point, rattling dice and picking loose bills up off of the ground. I was surprised to see Troy clicking away at his Game Boy. I didn’t know he’d be coming to the corner without me.

“’Sup, Troy?” I asked.

“What you ’bout to do, D?” Troy grimaced, safely securing his Game Boy in his pocket.

Burger looked up from his game, and our eyes met. He laughed and turned back to toss the dice against the wall. I winded up the sock, aimed, and cracked a healthy chunk of meat out of the back of his head. POW! He slapped the pavement like a sack of trash. After the first blow, I hit him again, this time harder, hard enough to redden us with his blood as I whipped again and again, basking in the carnage. I didn’t hear anything—a silence blanketed my surroundings. I blacked out, cracking him again and again and again—then a clapping crowd shook me out of my trance, and I heard kids singing my praises, cheering at the slain menace. A few older dudes rushed to yank me away and scooped up Burger so that he didn’t bleed out. Word on the streets was that he got 180 staples and stitches after my blows.

Victory! Victory! Victory––a lie.

Burger whipped my ass at least twenty or more times after that. And to make matters worse, hitting Burger didn’t protect Troy or make me feel any better. It did make me look better in front of my peers and homies; Nay Nay even kissed me on the lips a week later. But I felt like a terrible person. And knowing this, I continued to choose violence––like a wave of destruction that I continued to ride for most of my life. But this is what it took to handle all things like “a man,” like the men in my family, and on TV––you had to pretend that fear and regret didn’t exist.

Years later, while passing a blunt around on a corner with some friends, close to where the beatdown took place, someone said that Burger had been gunned down for hustling on another dude’s block. I snickered and said something like, “That fat-ass nigga always had his hands on something that wasn’t his.” Everyone on the corner laughed while agreeing. We’d grown up with Burger, he was one of us. He was an asshole, but he was ours. We spent years with him playing basketball, talking to girls, and just being kids—but the lie did not allow us to acknowledge our loss. We were hurt, saddened by his death, but we could not show it; that wasn’t allowed, we had to take it like men. We said “Fuck ’em” and went on with our conversation, our lives—feeding, clothing, providing, nourishing the lie as men.

This lie has been told for generations—strangling the emotions of Black men everywhere, forcing us to hold back our tears, our smiles, our joy, and reject feeling anything, at least too much or much at all. I bought into this act for too long, and now, after decades of it, before and after the death of Burger, I’m finally at a place where I want to abandon the lie. I want to bury it. I want to freely experience joy and love and hurt, to stop using trauma like a currency.

What I learned from cracking Burger in the head with a Master Lock, or from the years of crack sales and the rest of the madness that came next, is that it was all a lie. None of it made me happy. I was taught to use the violence that accompanies toxic masculinity as my own personal painkiller, as if aggression could heal, and I was tired. I don’t want to be a liar. I don’t want to be the hero.

What I want?

I want to smile.

Book I

A Camp Story

Someone stole my innocence, but I’m a Black boy, so no one cared.


“Lil nigga, you probably ain’t had pussy since it had you!” my camp counselor Heavy breathed into my ear, squeezing my nine-year-old shoulders and pushing me through the cabin door, into a dim-lit room. “Don’t come out until she tell you to come out!”

I slowly stepped forward into the room. A song I heard too many times—at block parties and cookouts—whispered out of a small black-and-gray plastic radio with a wire-hanger antenna sitting on the dresser.

Back to life, back to reality,

back to the here and now…

“Boy, stop lookin’ all stupid and close the door,” a raspy voice shouted over the music. “Lock it.”

I followed her directions without facing her, holding the thin door, wiggling it shut, latching it. And then I stood there, paralyzed, waiting for another order. She brushed past me on her way to the bed, bumping my shoulder. Finally, I saw her. She was a woman, but about my height. Her thighs thicker than my torso. Her odor, like stale minty-musty sweat, filled the room.

“Won’t you sit down?” she asked, looking at me. I looked away. “What cabin you in?”

She was brown, almond. Again I noticed that she was a woman, not a girl; double my size and my age, I thought. Her big white teeth poked out when she spoke, half of them separated by gaps so large that I could probably have fit my thumb in between. She was wearing a loud neon pink tennis skirt that floated above her upper thighs. She sat with her legs open wide in front of me.

“Thirteen–fifteen,” I responded.

The older guys, the ones who hung at the top of my block—they loved women. They laughed with them, drove them places, showed off the things they’d bought for them. They fought with them, and told the women that they loved them. I didn’t love this lady. I didn’t want to do anything for this lady. She was a stranger.

“Oh okay, well, how old is you, boy? You look like a little baby,” she said, with one eyebrow raised.

“I’m nine and a half,” I replied, looking away.

She laughed so hard a mist of spit sprayed from her mouth. Holding her stomach, she laughed some more, each chuckle carrying her head up and down in a rupture, with her long cleavage jiggling in waves with each movement.

“Yeah, okay, boy. I know ya big-ass self older than that. Come over here, boy,” she ordered.

My heart sank to my feet. Beads of sweat stretched across my forehead and drizzled down the side of my face. My shoes felt like fifty-, no, seventy-five-pound weights, and I trudged toward her.

“Nine and a half years old,” she laughed. “Boy, you silly.”

I stood about a foot away from her as she started to pull me toward her. I felt myself being sucked deeper into her world. A world of sweat and stickiness. She smelled like Ashland Avenue. Or like what Grandma meant when she’d put her face close to mine, and say, “You smell like outside, go wash up.”

She stuck her hands up the bottom of my basketball shorts. And rubbed me.

I looked away. I wanted her to stop. Or did I? I felt as bad as the room smelled, as bad as she smelled, like chewing gum and eggs. Crickets screamed through the window as blood rushed into my fingers, my toes, the tip of my penis. My body clearly did not want her to stop.

The older dudes from the top of my block…I thought of them. They’d pin her to the bed, flesh thirsty, fearless. They’d rip her panties off with their teeth and dive in. They talked about it all the time on the block. I was their lil homie, I was supposed to be like them.

So why am I scared?

Why isn’t she scared?

The older dudes from the top of my block…They’d always joke that one day it would be my turn to fuck, to taste it, to “Dip my head in the devil’s ass,” they’d say. I never imagined it like this…with a girl I didn’t know…who was older…a girl who was not my girlfriend…a girl I never had a crush on…a girl I never wrote notes to or drew pictures for…a girl who smelled like outside.

She rubbed me. And for the first time, I was being touched; it was strange for a Black boy like me where hugs, kisses, and “I love you”s at home were rarely traded, if ever at all. Now the only things separating me from this stranger touching me were my fear and the smells of Isoplus Oil Sheen, Speed Stick, Big Red chewing gum, and Pink Oil Moisturizer.

“Don’t think you fuckin’ me,” she laughed. “I gotta man back home from up Park Heights, da-hahaha.” One warm clammy hand was on me, squeezing me; her other hand was searching for the radio dial, turning up the music.

However do you want me,

However do you need me.

“You got long eyelashes, just like a little girl,” she laughed, squinting her eyes and focusing on my face. “Heavy told you how this work, right?” she asked, smiling. I caught a glimpse of her round face again. Her forehead was way too small for her eyebrows, they almost touched.

“Some of my lil girls look out for him, and some of his lil boys look out for me, da-haha. You scared, ain’t chu?”

I imagined her boyfriend, a twenty-something-year-old with a mustache and a real chest, not a frail chest like mine, but a fully developed one, like those on the action figures my mom bought me, that I never played with. Her man probably had a car, a Benz, or a 300Z with a T-Top, or a Nissan Pathfinder, or a 4Runner. If she had a “man,” what did she want with a boy like me?

“Sit on the bed,” she ordered, pulling me by my dick until it hurt, until I was closer to her.

She flipped her skirt up and caressed herself, pulling her panties to the side, looking at the ceiling. I looked, even though I felt like I shouldn’t. I had never seen a vagina before—well, a real one. I saw them in magazines that my older cousins had. They would fuck every woman in between those pages, they’d declare. But they’d never meet those women, and if they did, they wouldn’t even know what to say to say them.

I couldn’t really see hers, the room was dark, but I could smell it. Her crotch was dark and hairy. There were fingers, and smacking sounds, and stink, and moans.

I stood still as the moment blurred.

What if someone walked in? I wished someone would.


  • Black Boy Smile is a must-read exploration of white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and the need to undermine them both.”

    Booklist, Starred Review
  • "A startling and moving celebration of a brutal life transformed by language and love."—Kirkus Books, Starred Review
  • “Reading this memoir is like going through a pile of pictures with author D. Watkins…Black Boy Smile has the sweet kind of ending you want in a memoir, and that’s the honest truth.”—Washington Informer
  • “Black Boy Smile will make you smile, too. [It] has the sweet kind of ending you want in a memoir, and that’s the honest truth.”—Philadelphia Tribune
  • “A smile isn't a thing that appears on the face in a flash. It's more of a gradual lift that starts from an unseen place. What Watkins does here is courageously chronicle that lift. This is, no doubt, an origin story for the ages.” —Jason Reynolds, New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist
  • "If I had two wishes, it would be that D. Watkins spend an entire book writing through the terrifying wonder of Black boyness in America, and for every human to read and share this book. I am shaken. Black Boy Smile changed my relationship to writing and me."—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy and winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal
  • Black Boy Smile is another important look at growing up. Watkins has shown what courage means despite fear. This is a book all young men should read.”
     —Nikki Giovanni, American poet and NAACP Image Award winner
  • “In Black Boy Smile, D. Watkins is a masterful memoirist. No lie, I could read accounts from his life for eons. He writes with so much style and verve; so much wit, humor, candor; so much cultural acuity and earned wisdom. Watkins miraculous personal story is a universal testimony of survival, love, and hard-won evolution. This book should be required reading for every Black man in America, plus everybody who knows one.”—Mitchell S. Jackson, Pulitzer Prize and Whiting Award winner and author of Survival Math.
  • "In Black Boy Smile, D. Watkins excavates his past and lays bare his present and future, writing with the kind of deep honesty and vulnerability that take you from the pages of a memoir directly into the writer’s tender heart. . .A powerful, timely meditation on Black masculinity, survival, loss, grief, and love." 

    Deesha Philyaw, National Book Award finalist and author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies
  • "A staggering account of Black boyhood in its abounding scope, a gift for so many of us who've grown used to consuming misrepresentations about the men we love most.  This is a book that has left nothing out. Each essay is more radically honest than the last, yet painfully obvious, so Black Boy Smile exposes not only the historical and spiritual institutions at the root of those diminished smiles, but the ways in which each of us are complicit in upholding those structures. A compulsive, affecting, beautiful read."
     —Wayétu Moore, author of She Would Be King and The Dragons, the Giant, the Women
  • “D. Watkins has long been one of our most profound memoirists... The scenes are so full of life, the prose so masterful that I was lost in D.'s world. I dare you to read the first chapter and then try to put this book down.”—Baynard Woods, author of Inheritance
  • On We Speak for Ourselves: "[D. Watkins] is not another elite voice for the voiceless. He is, this book is, an amplifier of low income Black voices who have their own voices and have no problem using them. He dares us to listen.”—Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Anti-Racist
  • On We Speak for Ourselves: “Watkins’ latest work shows the black community is not a monolith. Even as we may wear the iconic t-shirts of the struggle yet have different thoughts about the issues faced. We are a diverse and proud community, trying to come to grips with who we are; sometimes wearing a mask within our own brother and sisterhood."—April Ryan, author of Under Fire
  • On We Speak for Ourselves: "Watkins writes with a type of profound love for the Black forgotten that will compel all who read his timely words to never forget the Black people and places so many cultural critics and thought leaders disremember with ease.”—Darnell L. Moore, author of No Ashes in the Fire
  • On The Cook Up: “Amazing storytelling that brings us deep into the reality of East Baltimore. A moving and important piece of contemporary memoir.”—Wes Moore, author of The Work and The Other Wes Moore
  • On The Cook Up: "An unflinching, raw, coming-of-age account of the personal impact of the drug trade. Simply a must-read.”—DeRay Mckesson, author of On the Other Side of Freedom
  • On D. Watkins: "That Watkins threaded his way from those corners to the page is rare enough. That he is so committed to pulling this world through with him—enough of it to at least rub our noses in it and make us acknowledge some collective responsibility—is precious."—David Simon, author of The Corner and Creator of HBO's The Wire
  • On D. Watkins: “Watkins’ latest work shows the black community is not a monolith. Even as we may wear the iconic t-shirts of the struggle yet have different thoughts about the issues faced. We are a diverse and proud community, trying to come to grips with who we are; sometimes wearing a mask within our own brother and sisterhood."—Jada Pinkett Smith, American actress
  • On The Cook Up: "An important story for both Black and white America, as well as this country’s political leadership, to read, if we’re truly going to tackle the challenges that are facing our communities all across the country.”—Chuck Todd, correspondent, NBC's Meet the Press

On Sale
May 16, 2023
Page Count
256 pages
Legacy Lit

D. Watkins

About the Author

D. Watkins is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of The Beast Side, The Cook Up, Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised and We Speak for Ourselves, which was a One Book, one Baltimore selection. He is Editor at Large for Salon. He is featured in the HBO documentary The Slow Hustle and is a writer on We Own the City, an HBO miniseries from David Simon. His work has been published in the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and other publications. He is a college lecturer at the University of Baltimore and holds a Master's in Education from Johns Hopkins University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Baltimore. Watkins’ awards include the BMe Genius Grant for dynamic Black leaders, the City Lit Dambach Award for Service to the Literary Arts, the Maryland Library Association’s William Wilson Maryland Author Award, and the Ford’s Men of Courage award for Black male storytellers. He was also a finalist for a 2016 Hurston Wright Legacy Award and The Cook Up was a 2017 Books for a Better Life finalist. He is lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife and daughter.

Learn more about this author