Watkins, Steve 1954–

views updated

Watkins, Steve 1954–


Born October 9, 1954, in Alexandria, VA; son of Clyde and Nora Lea Watkins; married Laurie Wilson, 1984; children: Maggie, Eva. Education: Florida State University, B.A., 1977, M.A., 1985, Ph.D., 1990. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Unitarian Universalist. Hobbies and other interests: Practicing and teaching Ashtanga Yoga.


Home—Fredericksburg, VA. Office—English, Linguistics, and Speech Department, Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA 22401. Agent—Kelly Sonnack, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, 1155 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92104. E-mail—[email protected].


Pelouze Scale Co., Evanston, IL, assembly line worker, 1972; New Hanover Memorial Hospital, Wilmington, NC, nurses' aide, 1974-75; Florida Flambeau, Tallahassee, FL, writer, 1975-76, associate editor, 1977-78, editor, 1978-80; teacher at a child care center in Leon County, FL, 1981; Tallahassee Democrat, Tallahassee, FL, assistant news editor, 1981-82, assistant features editor, 1982-83, arts and features writer, 1983; Therapeutic Concepts Inc., Tallahassee, FL, writer and editor, 1988; Red Letter Editorial Consultants, Tallahassee, FL, writer and editor, 1988; Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, assistant professor, 1990-96, associate professor of English, 1996—.


Volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).


Snake Nation Review Short Fiction Contest award, 1991; Pushcart Prize, 1992, for short story "Critterworld"; Virginia College Stores Book Award, 1998; Southern Regional Council Nonfiction Book Award finalist, 1998.


The Black O: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1997.

My Chaos Theory: Stories, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 2006.

Also author of short stories. Contributor to periodicals, including Snake Nation Review.


With his book The Black O: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire, Steve Watkins has contributed a chapter to the ongoing story of racial discrimination in the United States. The Black O chronicles the employment discrimination case filed against the Shoney's Corporation (the parent company of Shoney's restaurants) on behalf of 20,909 claimants. After five years of litigation, the plaintiffs received a 132.5 million dollar settlement and the Shoney's Corporation altered its hiring practices. The black "O" of Watkins's title refers to the common practice of blackening the letter "o" in the name Shoney's on any application submitted by an African American.

Members of Shoney's fired white restaurant managers Billie and Henry Elliott for not firing African American employees. The Elliotts visited Tommy Warren's Tallahassee, Florida, law office in 1988 to initiate legal action against their former employer. The book describes how Warren, who with Barry Goldstein would become the lead attorneys for the thousands of plaintiffs, garnered support for his case by taking colleagues who had never been to a Shoney's restaurant to the restaurant for lunch. Before they arrived, Warren gave his lunch companions a preview of what they would encounter at the restaurant: the hostess, the manager at the cash register, and the waiters would be almost exclusively white. Kitchen workers (glimpsed from behind a swinging door), bussers, and salad bar stockers would be almost exclusively black. As Watkins recounts: "When the three men sit down at the Fernandina Beach, Florida Shoney's, the tableau unfolds exactly as Warren predicted it would." Warren's predictions convinced another attorney and his firm to support the suit. That support would eventually cost the other firm seven hundred thousand dollars, a big risk to run on what would inevitably be a complicated case against Shoney's highly trained and highly paid legal defense.

The Elliotts' discrimination claims were bolstered by the 270 complaints about unfair labor practices at Shoney's filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1985 to 1990, when Clarence Thomas led the agency before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. A telling incident in the book, cited by John Greenya in the Washington Post Book World, occurred when Shoney's founder Ray Danner arrived at a meeting at corporate headquarters with an Igloo cooler in which he had placed a smaller-than-normal piece of fish. According to Greenya, Danner had been served this fish "in the only one of his Captain D's restaurants (also owned by Shoney's, Inc.) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to have a black manager." Flinging the piece of fish against a wall, Danner exclaimed, "That is a prime example of black management in our company," writes Watkins. After courts found Shoney's hiring practices discriminatory, Danner had to pay sixty-seven million dollars of the 132.5 million dollar settlement himself.

The Black O received positive reviews. Greenya called it "a very readable book about a landmark legal battle." Raye Snover, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "a meticulously documented account of the work of Warren and his co-counsel Barry Goldstein."

Watkins once told CA: "The Black O was originally under contract with Longstreet Press, but on the eve of publication, Longstreet cancelled the contract, though the book had been the lead work in their fall, 1995 catalog, and was already being heavily promoted by the Press. The reason: fear of legal reprisal from Shoney's and its executives, past and present. The University of Georgia Press bought the book almost immediately, and brought it out in the fall of 1997."

Watkins's first collection of short stories, My Chaos Theory: Stories, is a departure from the journalistic tone of his first book. The stories in the work "explore the male psyche," Roberto Ontiveros declared in the Texas Observer, "under a haze of obligations toward women: mothers, daughters, stepdaughters, wives deceased or just divorced from their men." In one story, for instance, Uma Thurman appears to instruct a beachcomber on how to fold the corpse of a drowned man into a yoga position called, appropriately enough, "the corpse." In another, three boys plot to kill a circus elephant only to have it expire—and collapse on a nearby car, trapping a little girl inside—before they can carry out their plan. "Disaster is the rule," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "in this aptly titled, darkly comic debut collection."



Watson, Steve, The Black O: Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1997.


Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of My Chaos Theory: Stories, p. 875.

Library Journal, November 15, 1997, Steven Anderson, The Black O, p. 66.

New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1998, Raye Snover, The Black O, p. 23.

Texas Observer, January 12, 2007, Roberto Ontiveros, "Voice-Over Lightly."

Washington Post Book World, October 12, 1997, John Greenya, review of The Black O.


University of Mary Washington,http://www.umw.edu/ (July 9, 2007), "Watkins, Stephen H.," author bio.

About this article

Watkins, Steve 1954–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article