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How the Word Is Passed

PEN award, 2022

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9780349701196

Price: £9.99

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ONE OF BARACK OBAMA’S FAVOURITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
A NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NON-FICTION

‘A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight.’ Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)

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 – which offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping a nation’s collective history, and our own.

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 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 neighbourhoods like downtown Manhattan, where the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.

How the Word is Passed is a landmark book that offers a new understanding of the hopeful role that memory and history can play in making sense of the United States. Chosen as a book of the year by President Barack Obama, The Economist, Time, the New York Times and more, fans of Brit(ish) and Natives will be utterly captivated.

What readers are saying about How the Word is Passed:

How the Word Is Passed frees history, frees humanity to reckon honestly with the legacy of slavery. We need this book.’ Ibram X. Kendi, Number One New York Times bestselling author

‘An extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves.’ Julian Lucas, New York Times Book Review

‘The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real.’ Hope Wabuke, NPR

‘This isn’t just a work of history, it’s an intimate, active exploration of how we’re still constructing and distorting our history.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post

‘In re-examining neighbourhoods, holidays and quotidian sites, Smith forces us to reconsider what we think we know about American history.’ Time

‘A history of slavery in this country unlike anything you’ve read before.’ Entertainment Weekly

‘A beautifully written, evocative, and timely meditation on the way slavery is commemorated in the United States.’ Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

Reviews

With careful research, scholarship, and perspective, Smith underscores a necessary truth: the imprint of slavery is unyieldingly present in contemporary America, and the stories of its legacy, of the enslaved people and their descendants, are everywhere.
TeenVogue
Through Smith's clear-eyed storytelling, he illustrates just how deeply the consequences of this intergenerational history manifest in the present day, both politically and personally.
Time
...a devastating portrait with unforgettable details...a vivid portrait of the extent to which venues have attempted to redress past wrongs...A brilliant, vital work about 'a crime that is still unfolding
Kirkus
By blending journalistic inquiry with historical insights and poetic descriptions, the author turns a complex and traumatic subject - racism and the legacy of slavery in America - into a beautiful, insightful and even enjoyable journey
Economist Best Books of 2021
In this exploration of the ways we talk about-and avoid talking about-slavery, Smith blends reportage and deep critical thinking to produce a work that interrogates both history and memory.
Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
Poet and journalist Clint Smith's debut examines the legacy of slavery in modern America, looking at historical monuments and landmarks across the country, ruminating on the ideas they represent in the narrative of our national identity and how that identity is bound to, and requires, anti-Black racism.
Buzzfeed
An important and timely book about race in America.
Drew Faust, Harvard Magazine
A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight. Clint Smith chips away at their disguise with lyricism and grace
Afua Hirsch
The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real
Hope Wabuke, NPR
How the Word is Passed frees history, frees humanity to reckon honestly with the legacy of slavery. We need this book
Ibram X. Kendi
Part of what makes this book so brilliant is its bothandedness. It is both a searching historical work and a journalistic account of how these historic sites operate today. Its both carefully researched and lyrical. I mean Smith is a poet and the sentences in this book just are piercingly alive. And it's both extremely personal-it is the author's story-and extraordinarily sweeping. It amplifies lots of other voices. Past and present. Reading it I kept thinking about that great Alice Walker line 'All History is Current'.
John Green
Clint Smith, in his new book "How the Word Is Passed," has created something subtle and extraordinary.
Christian Science Monitor
An extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves
Julian Lucas, New York TImes Book Review
This isn't just a work of history, it's an intimate, active exploration of how we're still constructing and distorting our history
Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Sketches an impressive and deeply affecting human cartography of America's historical conscience...an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves.
Julian Lucas, New York Times Book Review
Suffused with lyrical descriptions and incisive historical details, including Robert E. Lee's ruthlessness as a slave owner and early resistance by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to the Confederate general's "deification," this is an essential consideration of how America's past informs its present.
Publisher’s Weekly