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Alum Eric Watts Finds Success as Poet and Computer Technician

Photo Credit: Alberto Vargas

Last year, when Eric Watts asked his then five-year-old daughter the question, "What is life?" she answered, "Life is good and fair."

What a difference a generation makes! For Watts, a New York City College of Technology (City Tech) alumnus, childhood was a time of uncertainty and fear. His father was sentenced to 29 years in prison when Watts was six years old, his mother suffered from mental illness and his stepfather beat him.

“The sadness stayed with me throughout my adolescent years,” Watts, now 30, writes in the introduction to his first book of poetry, Cellar Door: Volume One, recently published by iUniverse-Indigo. In a poem titled “1625,” which refers to the number of the building on Park Place in Brooklyn where Watts lived with his mother and stepfather, he gives readers a taste of what his younger life was like:

    An old brown couch is where he laid in fear
    whimpering beneath his covers and no one cared.
    Clutching the pillow his wounds bled through his sheets
    His tears ran past the cigarette burns
    So who will cry for this little boy?
    A strong little boy who held in his pain
    A lonely little boy that only God knew his name.

Early on, he took solace in writing and kept a journal. A turning point in his life came accidentally. An English teacher at the Ronald Edmonds Learning Center, located in the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, told Watts and other students in his class that they could earn extra credit by writing on a topic of their choice. Watts chose to write a poem.

“The teacher questioned whether the poem I wrote was original,” he explains. “I was very angry and wrote another poem on the spot for him. I realized then that all of the anger I kept hidden inside could be used for something better.”

Watts, who also graduated from P.S. 287 in Fort Greene, credits family members, friends and teachers with keeping him from the temptations of the streets. “I wanted to go to school,” he says. “It was an easy choice to make, to follow my dreams and become something.”

After graduating from George Westinghouse High School, Watts enrolled in a community college and then transferred to City Tech. He wasn't sure in which direction to go so he studied liberal arts. He then went on to major in computer systems technology, graduating with a bachelor of technology degree in 2004.

While at City Tech, he took lots of English classes and particularly singles out Professors George Guida and Richard Patterson as well as Gregory Donaldson, who formerly taught at the College, for encouraging his passion for writing.

“Eric Watts writes poetry people need,” Professor Guida says. “His work finds hope in all our tribulations.”

These days Watts follows two career paths. He is a poet who recites his work in numerous venues and has taken top awards in slam competitions and he is a computer technician.

“My plans are to finish volume two of Cellar Door and complete a play, Conundrum, which is loosely based on my life,” says. “I am exploring some ideas for a sitcom and perhaps a short film, too. There are many opinions, ideas and emotions that I have and I only feel at liberty to express them through my writing.”

To support his family as a single father of two daughters, one of whom is less than a year old, he works as a computer technician for the Phipps Houses Group. The organization, which is one of the nation's largest not-for-profit developers, owners, and managers of affordable housing, bought more than 100 copies of his book to distribute to residents of the New York City communities it serves.

For Watts, there is a happy marriage of technology and creativity. “I've always loved fixing things and solving people's technical problems,” he explains. “As a computer technician, I get to meet so many different people and learn so much as a result.

“Often I use my smartphone to jot a poem or two while riding the train to work. When I am home I use my laptop to write my short stories and poems,” he adds. “God knows I can't maintain my love for writing without technology. My keyboard is an extension of my pen.”

Watts is determined to show his daughters the world. “I try to share with my girls all the knowledge and wisdom that I have and to teach them that their dreams are attainable,” he explains. “I plan to take them around the world. So far, we have been to Disney World, Atlanta and Europe.”

As for his parents, Watts says that he is embarked on “an ongoing search to make peace with the past.” In the acknowledgments for Cellar Door, he thanks his mother, “who taught me that only the strong survive.”

Watts has not only survived, he has thrived. As a college graduate, poet and father, he has reached a point in his life where he can reveal some of his secrets and invite readers of Cellar Door to share his deepest experiences. On Sunday, September 14, he will be selling and promoting Cellar Door at the Brooklyn Book Festival being held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m at Brooklyn Borough Hall and Plaza as well as other nearby locations.


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