How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith is our NYU Reads selection for the 2023-24 academic year.
In How the Word Is Passed, author Clint Smith documents his travels to eight places in the United States (and one abroad to Senegal)—plantations, prisons, cemeteries, historical landmarks and cities, including New York City—to consider the gaps in our collective memory of American slavery. Through his reported conversations with fellow visitors to these spaces, Smith teases out the difference between history and nostalgia, between what happened and what we may have come to believe happened: the difference, for instance, between the perception that New York as a northern state opposed slavery, and the fact that by the mid-18th century, one in five people living in New York City was enslaved.
How the Word Is Passed is a powerful reminder of the importance of historical research and an honest consideration of how this research plays out directly in our own lives today. Sensitively, patiently and persistently, Smith asks and answers deeply challenging questions: How have we been taught to remember? Whom do we memorialize? Smith interrogates how we come to know what we know, models ways to question that knowledge, and shows readers how to be courageous enough to let new realizations in.
How the Word Is Passed won the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named one of the top ten books of 2021 by the New York Times.
This research guide aims to provide guidance, knowledge, and resources for engaging with How the Word is Passed, including books, articles, films, and other materials that can be accessed through NYU Libraries.