Write of Passage

Willett's Baltimore Transitions / Expressions

Willett .

Willett .
Baltimore, Maryland,
June 15
Write of Passage, Inc.
Willett Thomas is the President of Write of Passage, Inc., a 501(C)(3) communications, training, and publishing organization formed in 2010 to assist underserved artists and writers. She is also a freelance writer, writing in and about Baltimore. She recently relocated to the neighborhood of Greenmount, where the exterior shots of the HBO series, The Wire were filmed. She's pleased to report any rumored resemblances to the television series are greatly exaggerated. *** Like us at Facebook ;-) http://www.facebook.com/WriteofPassage

Editor’s Pick
MAY 4, 2010 8:27AM

The Wire's Rafael Alvarez talks about writing

Rate: 7 Flag

It could be said that writer Rafael Alvarez has close ties with Station North, its Greenmount neighborhood in particular.  A native Baltimorean, who started out writing for The Baltimore Sun, Alvarez wrote for fellow Sun alum David Simon’s hit HBO series “The Wire.” Greenmount is where exterior shots for the series were filmed. The episodes he wrote concentrated on the docks storyline, a subject he is very familiar with seeing how his father was a long-time Baltimore waterfront worker.

A writer by profession, his fiction has appeared in distinguished magazines and anthologies including “Urbanite” and “Baltimore Noir,” he can often be found reading his fiction at venues in Station North and its close-in sibling neighborhoods.  He recently judged an event held at the Windup Space called “Literary Death Match.”

During a poetry open mike held at New Age Dine & Dance in Mt. Vernon, Alvarez is listening intently while also jotting away on a yellow pad. (The great thing about being a writer is that you can do it just about anywhere.) Between jots and cheers of encouragement, he takes time to talk about Baltimore — the city he loves — and how new writers can best play the writing game in Charm City.

Is Baltimore a good city for someone trying to break into writing, for someone who doesn’t have a lot of clips?
Back in the day — when Jimmy Carter was president and the Sex Pistols were releasing their debut album — it was a coup for me to land a story in the Baltimore Sun while still a college student, which I did in 1978 with an interview with the great Studs Terkel in Chicago.  Thirty years later, I am an accomplished professional writer with all kinds of good things to my credit and the Baltimore Sun doesn’t have $100 to spare on a good local feature.

Well, that doesn’t sound all that encouraging.
And it just gets worse from there.

Okay, what’s the up side?  Say, it’s just in you to write, what should the next Rafael Alvarez be doing to ensure that he actually becomes Rafael Alvarez, professional writer, in twenty years, and is not selling garden supplies at Lowes?
…talent and hard work always win out, so I guess if I was 20 years old today — or even older and wanting to break in – I’d be writing for free for any one of the many websites out there or starting my own blog or something, while keeping an eye out for places that pay.  And then places that pay better.

For someone trying to break into writing in Baltimore, what publications are more open to looking at something from a new writer?

It all depends on skill level. Most of the people I write for in Baltimore – “Urbanite”, “Baltimore Magazine”, “Maryland Life” and “Chesapeake Life” — are relationships I’ve made over the years, from being part of the community, which remains an authentic term in Baltimore.  People look out for each other here, but you have to be a good guy and be able to deliver quality.

Do you suggest getting a Masters in Art in Creative Writing, Journalism?
I have a degree in English – 1980 – from Loyola College in Maryland.  Sometimes I think I’d have been better off running away with the circus, I’m serious, because that sort of thing is invaluable experience. But a Loyola degree – any Catholic college degree – goes a long way in Baltimore and elsewhere.  I never ran away with the circus, but I did work on ships as a teenager and then again when I left the Sun in 2001.  

Are you actively working on anything for TV/film?
I am currently editing a website out of the Balkans called setimes.com and am making a documentary film about the Rosary.

If you had the chance to collaborate with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
I don’t like collaborations. I’m not interested in the other person’s “cool idea,” which is why I think I’m better suited to writing fiction than making films.  

Baltimore in a nutshell?
A pissed off, 40 year old grandmother with a rag tied around her head, squirting down the sidewalk with a hose, grumbling about how the world is going to hell.”

Last words?
I love Baltimore. I wouldn’t be who I am without it.

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Thanks for this.
Incredible program. A student of mine was an extra.
Great interview. Alvarez sounds real. I loved The Wire
Rafael is way cool. Also, B'more being a "big city in a small town" I actually met Avon Barkdale's uncle yesterday. Real hoot. I'm learning more about the "life" than I ever knew I wanted to know.
Great interview - thanks for pointing out a "real" writer that I might not have otherwise heard of.
I'm a fanatic for "The Wire". This interview is great.

On a weird note - I read, a few years ago, about people doing tourism based on "The Wire". Like, people traveling to Baltimore to get their pictures taken in the 'hood, maybe hoping to meet a corner kid. Ghetto tourism? Poor people as props? This seemed insane to me.
But it reflects on how "The Wire" made these lives so real - like there could be an opportunity to get your picture taken with Chris and Snoop. But why would you want to?
Lot's of societal implications in the impulse to experience Baltimore through that lens. And ultimately it's a big compliment to the writer's who made it so real.
@aim -- Rafael promised me a follow-up interview specifically aimed at his experience writing for The Wire. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Also, I don't know of any tour of the the corners, but I've only been in Baltimore for a short time.
good one...nice to read your stuff
Great interview. Unbelievable--you actually talked with a writer on a popular series about writing rather than the series. Crazy. Bold. Brilliant. You're a rogue thinker RW, for that I adore you.

rated for absolute 'brain crush'
@Tricia -- As for the getting the interview -- I really had to say to myself, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" After that, it was pretty easy. Rafael is very generous and kind. He also knows how hard it can be to get started doing this writing thing.

Thanks for the kind words.
What an interesting post as always terrific writing!!Congrats on being Editors Pick.....All I know about Baltimore is it's where Ace Of Cakes my favorite show,(I am a food addict after all..)is filmed.
@doafa -- G&M -- the best crab cakes. You come to Baltimore, my treat!