How the Word is Passed Book Cover


2023-2024 Selection:
by Clint Smith

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

How the Word is Passed Book Cover

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks--those that are honest about the past and those that are not--that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation's collective history, and ourselves.

It is the story of the Monticello Plantation in Virginia, the estate where Thomas Jefferson wrote letters espousing the urgent need for liberty while enslaving more than four hundred people. It is the story of the Whitney Plantation, 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 in Louisiana that is filled with Black men who work across the 18,000-acre land for virtually no pay. And it is the story of Blandford Cemetery, the final resting place of tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers.

A deeply researched and transporting exploration of the legacy of slavery and its imprint on centuries of American history, How the Word Is Passed illustrates how some of our country's most essential stories are hidden in plain view--whether in places we might drive by on our way to work, holidays such as Juneteenth, or entire neighborhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women, and children has been deeply imprinted.

Informed by scholarship and brought to life by the story of people living today, Smith's debut work of nonfiction is a landmark of reflection and insight that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of our country and how it has come to be.

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From the Publisher:

Instant #1 New York Times Bestseller 
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Winner of the Stowe Prize 
Winner of 2022 Hillman Prize for Book Journalism 
One of President Obama's Favorite Books of 2021
A New York Times 10 Best Books of 2021 
Time 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2021 
Named a Best Book of 2021 by The New York TimesThe Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Smithsonian, Esquire, Entropy, The Christian Science Monitor, WBEZ's Nerdette Podcast, TeenVogue, GoodReads, SheReads, BookPage, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Fathom Magazine, the New York Public Library, and the Chicago Public Library 
One of GQ’s 50 Best Books of Literary Journalism of the 21st Century 

“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 author of Stamped from the Beginning

“A beautifully written, evocative, and timely meditation on the way slavery is commemorated in the United States.” ―Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello

“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...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

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Book cover used with permission of Hachette Book Group.

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