Heading down to meet D. Watkins in his office at the University of Baltimore, I drove in past Madeira Street which serves as a prominent character in his 2017 Books for a Better Life nominated The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir. So much of what America sees when they drive past the inner-city streets like Madeira are folks killing each other with drugs and guns.
Victim blame is not only the least nuanced, but also the least imaginative response to the poverty and violence of tough neighborhoods like D’s cherished East Baltimore.
Could hope for a more equitable future start with imagination? Could there be any other more important beginning?
JK Rowling reminds us that “many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.”
The empire D is steadily building to inspire and amplify voices young artists coming out of our most dangerous cities will undoubtedly widen our collective moral imagination. Rabid followers and dozens of media outlets regularly seek out his perspective to not only feed our understanding of the struggle of a former drug-dealing black man in America today, but to get his take on this bewildering cultural moment we live in.
He’s also got varied and influential platforms at his disposal as an editor at Salon, and as a news commentator, New York Times best-selling author, college professor, founder of BMORE Writers Project, and sought-after speaker.
In reading any of his work, if your heart beats, you’re likely to be blown away by the simple, raw power of his voice. In many ways, D. Watkins is one of the most important Americans writers working today.
But, I wondered, as our conversation here begins, who, exactly, is he trying to reach?
With D. Watkins, the answer comes as no surprise. It’s not who you might imagine.