Last night, Baltimore-based author D. Watkins celebrated the launch of his new book, The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir, with a reading and book-signing at the University of Baltimore Town Hall. Watkins, an alum of the UB MFA program, has been gaining national traction as a cultural commentator since the publication of his wildly popular and poignant essay, “Too Poor for Pop Culture,” on Salon.com in February 2014. His glaringly honest voice and from-the-trenches perspective on the Black experience in America has continued to make waves in the national media, placing him in the league of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Beatty, and other major Black American writers.
To see him speak at UB last night, however, one never would have known. This is not to say that Watkins was not inspiring, brilliant, and engaging—he was. But he was also funny, open, and—most surprisingly— a little unsure. (“Are these satisfying answers?” he earnestly asked the audience at one point during the moderated Q&A.)
About Baltimore, however, Watkins was anything but trepid. He spoke passionately about incarceration and rehabilitation, as well as about misconceived notions of the city, particularly the so-called “Crabs-in-a-bucket mentality.” (The concept, commonly applied to the residents of lower-income Baltimore, is based on the idea that an individual crab could escape from a bucket, but is constantly pulled down by others trying to get out, meaning that none are able to break free.) Said Watkins:
“I want everybody to acknowledge that a bucket is not a crab’s natural habitat,” he said. “It should be on the beach. And maybe those crabs in that bucket aren’t pulling each other down, maybe they’re trying to help each other up. Or maybe they’re saving the other crabs from what’s waiting on the other side of the bucket—a steaming hot pot of death.”
If you didn’t get a chance to meet D, he can be found throughout the city working on his various literacy initiatives (like Writers in Baltimore Schools and Baltimore Writers Project). Learn more about Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir and his other upcoming projects here.