A 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 Salon.com, 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.
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.