In Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments, D. Watkins moves into new, vulnerable territory. Here Watkins (The Cook Up and The Beast Side) dissects what he calls "the lie": codes of Black masculinity that forced him into stoic silence in order to survive his upbringing.
In this book, Watkins practices the opposite--he shares traumatic memories of sexual abuse and violence as well as ways in which "the lie" inhibited his growth and happiness. Through it all, his love for the people of east Baltimore shines through, and Watkins's story feels radical in its openness and in its vision of a Black manhood that does not require bottling up feelings of pain or joy. His colorful prose delivers humor and attitude at every turn, particularly in the vivid descriptions. The first hint of a brighter future for Watkins came through books. Writing became something he pursued with a single-minded determination. Black Boy Smile, winner of the 2022 Paris Book Award for General Nonfiction, is a powerfully redemptive work because Watkins finds more than a career; he finds a new way of being, and his determination to pass on the lessons he's learned ensures that the book ends on a profoundly hopeful note. --Hank Stephenson