Hello Book Talkers!
I am so excited to introduce you to our next book up for our continuing discussion, How The Word is Passed, by Dr. Clint Smith. I am especially excited to chat about this absolutely brilliant book because Dr. Smith isn’t just one of the greatest minds of our generation, he’s my friend and a huge inspiration to me. I believe his work is going to help change the way we talk about the past, question who benefits from the way we talk about the past, and pave the way for a more equitable future. He’s also a poet, a father, and a regular contributor to The Atlantic. If you get the chance, check out his latest on the tragedy of losing children to gun violence. It always helps to read something of great clarity while in the midst of confusion brought on by the fog of grief. Maybe it’ll help you too.
A son of New Orleans, LA, displaced by the tragedy brought on by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Smith has personal experience with how quickly warped narratives can overtake the truth when the power of the status quo is at stake. In How The Word is Passed, he takes us readers on a journey through time and story, all in the monuments and landmarks of a once severed country. Places like The Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, and Thomas Jefferson’s own, Monticello. He asks hard questions of polite people, and listens as they speak. There is no denial of shared humanity, even in the realization that one may not always be seen in full recognition of their own personhood. It tells a kind of history of those of us who live in that space, and die in it too. And it exposes what our own lives and stories have been sacrificed for.
Here’s a snippet of a review from The New York Times:
Smith has a penchant for evoking people and places, and occasionally garlands his text with descriptions of voices, landscapes and curricula vitae that distract from the substance of his research. His generosity of spirit also leads him to affirm some instances of remembrance that might deserve more scrutiny. When I visited the Whitney Plantation in 2018, I was taken aback by its uncritical memorial to the 1811 German Coast Uprising, which Smith uses to open a chapter. It “honors” participants in the slave rebellion by displaying them just as their murderers did, as heads on pikes.
But it’s surely a sign of strength when even a book’s shortcomings vindicate its larger project. Smith’s unapologetically subjective map of American memory is an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves. As the great Haitian scholar Michel-Rolph Trouillot once wrote, “The inability to step outside of history in order to write or rewrite it applies to all actors and narrators.” Statues, curriculums, bank notes and symbols matter deeply, but all we have, in the end, is the sum of our reckonings.” (by Julian Lucas)
Let yourself be swept away by this story, then come back here and talk with us about it. We’ll be so happy to hear from you!
P.S. This is a hard time for us all. Please know that we're thinking of you, your children, and working toward a better tomorrow for us all. Much love.