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Local writer D. Watkins releases cover art for 'The Beast Side'

Cover art for D. Watkins' "The Beast Side"

Local writer and rising pundit-around-town D. Watkins has released the cover art for his first book, "The Beast Side," which will be published by a new imprint associated with the online website Salon.

The edgy cover design, created by former Maryland Institute College of Art student Na Kim, is black and depicts a chalk outline of a handgun. "The Beast Side" is written in red, with a target in white drawn around the "t."

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The words "Living and Dying while Black in America" are superimposed on the gun's barrel.

Watkins says over the phone that this cover art replaced an earlier version viewable on Amazon.com, in which the author's head is in the cross-hairs of two handguns. One gun is held by someone who apparently is white, and the other is held by someone who apparently is black. (Just the models' hands were visible.)

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"I never wanted my face be on the cover of my own book," Watkins says. "And I wanted the book to include the work of as many Baltimore artists as possible. I think it's important for local artists to collaborate."

The summary on Amazon.com describes the essay collection as "true dispatches from the other side of Obama's America" and elaborates:

"The author fought his way up on the East Side (the "beastside") of Baltimore, Maryland — or "Bodymore, Murderland" as his friends call it. He writes openly and unapologetically about what it took to survive life on the streets, while the casualties piled up around him, including his own brother. Watkins pushed drugs to pay his way through school, staying one step ahead of murderous business rivals and equally predatory lawmen. When black residents of Baltimore finally decided they had had enough — after the brutal killing of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody — Watkins was on the streets when the city erupted."

Watkins, who now teaches creative writing at Coppin State University, has provided commentary on race in Baltimore for venues ranging from National Public Radio to "The Guardian" newspaper. He said he received a phone call from out of the blue in March from Salon founder David Talbot.

Talbot had teamed up with publisher Skyhorse Books to form an investigative publishing imprint, Hot Books, and he asked Watkins if he'd ever thought about putting together a collection of his columns and essays. "The Beast Side" originally was slated to be published next year, but the release date was moved up after violence erupted in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury while riding in a police van that later proved to be fatal.

"David called me and said, 'Can you get me 40,000 words by July 1," Watkins recalled. "He thought that all of my writing about race needed to be in one place."

The "Beast Side" will be released in the first week of September. Watkins is planning a national book launch for around that time at Union Baptist Church, which played host to a similar event last week for the Baltimore-born Ta-Nehisi Coates' newest book.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com 

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