By Linh Bui

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Best-selling author D. Watkins on Tuesday released his new book, “Black Boy Smile,” a raw, moving memoir about his experience growing up in East Baltimore.

As Watkins told WJZ, the memoir is his most personal book, one he described as the scariest he has ever written in part because it forced him to “take the mask off.” He said it began with the idea of what it means to be a “Black man from an urban area.”

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“I wanted to pick certain moments when masculinity was given to me in the wrong way, and then I wanted to deconstruct what happened and offer how it should have been. How do I get past it and how do we move forward?” he said.

In one story from the book, Watkins remembers being a young child at a funeral and refusing to accept a hug. He said that refusal stemmed from being raised to believe that being a man “meant not being vulnerable,” which he called “terrible advice.”

“It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to talk about things that hurt you,” Watkins told WJZ. “To be a man? It means understanding when to say sorry. It’s understanding how to say, ‘I messed up.’ It’s understanding how to say, ‘You were right, I was wrong, let’s build from there.’”

 “Black Boy Smile” is about pain and healing. Watkins describes how he met his wife and fell in love. He includes a letter to his daughter, Cross.

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“I wrote the book partially for her, partially for my wife Caron,” he said. “But I also wrote the book for people who feel like they don’t deserve happy endings. I put my story out as an offering to let you know you can go through some wild and crazy things, but you can still have your happy ending.”

Watkins is embarking on a new chapter, now writing for television. That includes writing an episode of HBO’s new Baltimore-based drama series, “We Own This City,” and hosting its official podcast.

Besides that, Watkins teaches at the University of Baltimore, he serves as an editor-at-large for Salon and he’s joining the board for The Parkway Theater.

“I came close to quitting so many times. I came close to stopping so many times. I’m thankful I didn’t quit,” he said. “I would have told my 8-year-old self, ‘It’s going to get a whole lot better.’ I was scared to love, but I took the gamble and loved anyway. And you can, too.”

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Linh Bui