“I think that history is the story of the past, using all the available facts, and that nostalgia is a fantasy about the past using no facts, and somewhere in between is memory, which is kind of this blend of history and a little bit of emotion…I mean, history is kind of about what you need to know…but nostalgia is what you want to hear.”
Clint Smith, How the Word is Passed
National Book Critics Circle Award-winner, #1 New York Times bestseller, and Ten Best Books of 2021 list maker, Clint Smith examines the legacy of slavery in America and how history and memory shape our lives in his landmark work of scholarship brought to life through story.
An unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has shaped our nation’s collective history, and ourselves. It is the story of Monticello, where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing liberty while enslaving more than four hundred people. It is the story of the Whitney, one of the only former plantations devoted to preserving the experience of the enslaved people whose lives and work sustained it. It is the story of Angola, a former plantation-turned-maximum-security prison that is filled with Black men who work the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. It is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.
Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. How the Word Is Passed was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner for Nonfiction. His poetry collection Counting Descent, 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. His essays, poems, and scholarly writing have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review, and elsewhere.
NPR, June 1, 2021
Vox, August 27, 2021
The New Orleans Tribune, March 31, 2022
“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.”