An Emmy Award–winner pens a coming-of-age tale in the tradition of Manchild in the Promised Land, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Soul on Ice.
Old enough to have been called “colored,” “Negro,” “black” and, finally, “African-American,” Watlington reached adolescence at the height of the civil rights movement. The son of a religious mother and a father embittered by Jim Crow, Watlington displayed youthful bad behavior that got him briefly exiled to the South Carolina home of his poverty-stricken grandparents. He returned to Harlem and a street career that included episodes as a purse-snatcher, gang leader, reform schooler and heroin addict, but his intellectual precocity and athletic talent made him the ideal affirmative-action candidate. Following stints at the Peddie and Hotchkiss Schools and NYU, and with the help of mentors both black and white, Watlington became an actor, a community leader, a playwright, a journalist and a screenwriter. During the ’70s, a toxic mixture of heroin and welfare all but destroyed his neighborhood and the many friends he periodically left behind during forays into the white world, which included Zelig-like brushes with the likes of Harry Belafonte, Robert De Niro, Melanie Griffith, Tina Brown and enduring relationships with actor Bruce Willis, author Gail Sheehy and film documentarian Barbara Kopple. Drug addiction threatened his interracial second marriage and forced him to come to terms with a life spent crossing between white and black America, where his default role had been to explain each side to the other.
Watlington's story is so improbable, his thirst for experience so intense, his manner so heartfelt, that readers will look past the occasional patches of overripe prose.