How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

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$29.00  $26.68
Little Brown and Company
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.2 X 1.3 inches | 1.25 pounds

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About the Author

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent. The book won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He has received fellowships from New America, the Emerson Collective, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation. His writing has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review and elsewhere. Born and raised in New Orleans, he received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University.


"This book is beautiful and timely and important. How the Word is Passed reveals so much about race and nation and how we've made this world without feeling like Smith is trying to. I've felt compelled to take it everywhere I've gone. And it's taken me so many places--to confederate cemeteries, to prisons and plantations, to the door of no return. It has made me think about memory and history and the legacy of slavery and commemoration and how we forget, like no other book before it."--Reuben Miller, author of Halfway Home
"Clint Smith has given us a new lens for seeing the spaces we inhabit, the stories they tell, and the people who tell those stories. How the Word is Passed sheds light on the contested narratives beneath the surface of our collective national identity, inviting us to dig a little deeper, reminding us never to take received histories for granted."--Eve L. Ewing, author of 1919 and Ghosts in the Schoolyard
"Clint Smith chronicles in vivid and meditative prose his travels to historical sites that are truth-telling or deceiving visitors about slavery. Humans enslaved Black people, and then too often enslaved history. But How the Word Is Passed frees history, frees humanity to reckon honestly with the legacy of slavery. We need this book." --Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Anti-Racist and Stamped from the Beginning
"In reexamining neighborhoods, holidays and quotidian sites, Smith forces us to reconsider what we think we know about American history."--Time
"Smith tells his stories with the soul of a poet and the heart of an educator. Smith's ambitious book is fueled by a humble sense of duty: he sought the wisdom of those who tell of slavery's legacy "outside traditional classrooms and beyond the pages of textbooks"; public historians who "have dedicated their lives to sharing this history with others." Smith channels the spirit of Toni Morrison here; the writer as one to pass on the word so that it is never forgotten."--The Millions
"In this stunning book, Clint Smith takes readers on a necessary journey. Like the best of the tour guides he meets, he tells us the truth with conviction and compassion, and he has much to teach, both about the history of slavery across America and about how to pass the word on."

--W. Caleb McDaniel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sweet Taste of Liberty: A True Story of Slavery and Restitution in America
Named a Most Anticipated Title of 2021 by

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A Readers Digest Book by Black Authors to Know About

"A moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America... this is an essential consideration of how America's past informs its present."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A work of moral force and humility, How the Word is Passed offers a compelling account of the history and memory of slavery in America. Writing from Confederate Army cemeteries, former plantations, modern-day prisons, and other historical sites, Clint Smith moves seamlessly between past and present, revealing how slavery is remembered and misremembered--and why it matters. Engaging and wise, this book combines history and reportage, poem and memoir. It is a deep lesson and a reckoning."--Matthew Desmond, Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology and Pulitzer prize winning author of Evicted
"There is perhaps no greater challenge than convincing a nation to remember what it would rather choose to forget. Clint Smith, one of our most thoughtful writers and thinkers, skillfully documents how echoes of enslavement remain everywhere. The question is whether we have the collective will to reckon with the realities of our past in order to build a better future. How the Word Is Passed is a vital, desperately-needed contribution to that reckoning."--Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of They Can't Kill Us All
"A beautifully written, evocative, and timely meditation on the way slavery is commemorated in the United States."--Annette Gordon-Reed, Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard and Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello
"A Black journalist and poet calls for a reconsideration of the way America teaches its history of slavery....A brilliant, vital work about 'a crime that is still unfolding.'"--Kirkus (starred review)
"[A] powerful and diligent exploration of the realities and ongoing consequences of slavery in America."--Booklist (starred)