By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
D. Watkins may very well be the best-known writer on the Baltimore scene these days. I’ve read all his books: “The Beastside,” “The Cook Up,” “We Speak for Ourselves” and now just out “Black Boy Smile.”
This latest book is different from the others. As a memoir, it is far more introspective than the other three. He uses the same plainspoken (straight talking) voice, but instead of the many characters with their multiple stories in his other works, Watkins is hyper-focused on three persons not covered previously: his father, Big Dwight—for whom he his named, his wife, Caron, an attorney and their newborn, a little girl named Cross. If D. Watkins seems different in this book, it is because of his “hearts,” his “biggest inspirations.”
Watkins is a best-selling author of books that chronicle the underside of Baltimore. Most in our town have no real idea how the other Baltimore lives: the stresses, the crushes of poverty, the over-policing and the disruption of family life it brings and the huge gap in wages, salaries, schools, housing and healthcare they bring.
But Watkins shows us love and friendships too. He tells us of loyalty and creativity from those who routinely do a whole lot with a little bit. He narrates the stories of those surviving in the great American game that we Black folks are not supposed to win.
Watkins’ books are serious page turners. As you read Watkins, you always want to know what’s going to happen next—that is classic suspense.
“Black Boy Smile-A Memoir in Moments” is dedicated to D’s dad. Big Dwight is an intriguing figure: strong, well respected, and successful (not to mention a good cook).
Early in the book, the dad encourages junior to go to an overnight camp for weeks of duration. The younger Watkins reluctantly goes to Camp Farthest Out, founded by the late Reverend Marion C. Bascom, once of Douglas Memorial Community Church in West Baltimore. The account of the camp-stay is hilarious. I promise you when you read it you will laugh our loud. Upon his return from the challenging (to say the least) camp experience, the then nine-year-old assures his dad upon greeting him that he had a great time. The camp helped define the boy’s masculinity and its toxic toughness requirement.
At the end of the memoir, Watkins discusses the particular trait traceable to his first trip away from home alone. “I couldn’t help but think that as a boy my whole life and the foundation of my success was built on a toughness, a deep-seated grit, si deep that it’s still a part of me no matter how much I try to soften to this new life, of being a husband, and now a father.”
Clearly, D admires his dad, especially for his being there for him. “Being his son was an honor,” the author says, however, that he was born with two dads, Dwight Watkins Sr. and the streets. His father simply didn’t approve of street life for his despite his own time, energy and credibility out there.
Big Dwight wanted something more and better for his family and his son. He must be pleased and proud of his son’s career and family success. D always loves his momma, too.
But then Watkins meets the love of his life, a beautiful law school student encountered by chance at Coppin State University. He is captivated, to say the least, by her beauty and her smile. Caron is clearly the joy of his life. Clearly as he recounts their romance, their engagement and their life as parents that she has centered him. She is bright, cheerful and caring as he describes her in their life together. D. Watkins is married to a lawyer and so am I. She seems to have come along at just the right time in his life.
And just when you think D. Watkins’s story couldn’t read any happier, Caron and D have a baby girl and they name her Cross. She, at over a year old, reads like a delightful child: fun, smart and curious. She will be a daddy’s girl and not just because he’s the fun parent. But there is something about fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. Love is throughout in the best of families but there is something about the cross gender-cross generation ties that bind a little bit tighter.
Check out, “Black Boy Smile—A Memoir in Moments.”
It is inciteful into the man and it will amaze you to read about his softer side. Now that we know there is a tender side to D. Watkins Jr. one has to wonder how it will affect his writing about East Baltimore, all of Baltimore, life as a Black man in these United States and his new life as a happily married man raising a child in this crazy world.
Get the book, read it, then watch what happens next now that the Black Boy (now a man) is smiling and will continue to write.
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