Skip to Main Content

NYU Reads

A selection of resources for engaging with the NYU Reads books.

Introduction to Guide


While this research guide lists explicit themes from How the Word Is Passed, it is important to note that they dynamically intersect and interact with each other.  For example, language, memory, and storytelling are inextricably linked to relationality, land, and art and resistance when discussing slavery, white supremacy, colonialism, and capitalism. Clint Smith narrates reflections on slavery as it relates to the land and the land's witnessing of slavery and resistance/resilience against slavery. For example, he poetically observes, "I looked out the window one last time and saw miles and miles of land bathed in the purple-orange hue of dusk. The earth resembled a quilt, patches of land crowned in cages and patches of land made of quiet, open fields. A flock of birds, small and black, pushed and pulled against the sky as they moved in unison over the fields" (p. 116). As such, the goal of the guide is to help organize ideas into themes, but not to limit ideas within rigid boxes.  Teachers and students are encouraged to combine reflections across stated themes and also beyond them. 

Respecting Our Rhythms 

How the Word Is Passed urges us to reckon with the history and legacy of slavery in the United States if we are to move forward towards justice. Engaging in this reality can understandably feel challenging. We are encouraged to respect our rhythms as we read through the book and navigate this guide. Connotating what our body may need as we engage with the book and related contents,  the phrase respecting our rhythms aims to focus on an individual's process of knowledge intake and time needed to process/integrate information while accounting for/taking our mental health into consideration. This can mean connecting with the material in an environment that feels good for us, grabbing a cup of tea, taking breaks, adjusting our reading pace, reminding ourselves to take deep breaths, engaging in art (e.g. tactical, musical, movement, and/or visual), and/or participating in other grounding approaches, such as reminding ourselves that while there has been and there continues to be profound injustice and brutality, there is also beauty and hope for a just world. 

Resources and Support 

If we are need of additional emotional support while reading How the Word Is Passed, we can reach out to professional counselors that are available to talk 24/7 through the Wellness Exchange hotline at 212-443-9999, or chat through the Wellness Exchange app (available in the Apple App Store or Google Play). The chat is available in six languages (Arabic, English, French, Korean, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish).

Reaching out is a sign of courage and strength.