How the Word Is Passed: A Conversation with Clint Smith
June 18, 2021
How can a deeper understanding of the legacy of slavery help the United States better address its current injustices? In his new book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, The Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith takes readers to nine monuments and landmarks — some that are honest about the past and some that are not — and reflects on how the history of slavery continues to reverberate today. As we celebrate emancipation on Juneteenth, Smith joins Theodore R. Johnson, director of the Brennan Center’s Fellows Program, to discuss the hopeful role that memory can play in making sense of our country.
This event was produced in partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice.
Clint Smith, Staff Writer, The Atlantic; author, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America
Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He has previously received fellowships from New America, the Art For Justice Fund, Cave Canem, and the National Science Foundation.
His essays, poems, and scholarly writing have been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, The Paris Review, the Harvard Educational Review and elsewhere. His first full-length collection of poetry, Counting Descent, was published by Write Bloody Publishing in 2016. It won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award, and was selected as the 2017 'One Book One New Orleans' book selection. Clint’s debut nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed, explores how different sites across the country reckon with, or fail to reckon with, their relationship to the history of slavery. It will be published by Little, Brown in June 2021.
Clint is a 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and a 2017 recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review. He was named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 list as well as Ebony Magazine's 2017 Power 100 list. His two TED Talks, The Danger of Silence and How to Raise a Black Son in America, collectively have been viewed more than 9 million times.
Previously, Clint taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland where, in 2013, he was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council. He currently teaches writing and literature in the D.C. Central Detention Facility. He is also the host of Crash Course’s Black American History series.
Clint received his B.A. in English from Davidson College and his Ph.D. in Education from Harvard University. Born and raised in New Orleans, he currently lives in Maryland with his wife and their two children.
Theodore R. Johnson, Director, Fellows Program, Brennan Center
Theodore (Ted) R. Johnson is a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. His work explores the role that race plays in electoral politics, issue framing, and disparities in policy outcomes. Previously, he was a national fellow at New America and a research manager at Deloitte. He is also a retired commander in the U.S. Navy following a two-decade career that included service as a White House fellow, military professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and speechwriter to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, National Review, and Politico, among other publications. He teaches law and public policy to master’s and doctoral students and is currently working on a book about national solidarity and race relations.
Johnson holds a BS in mathematics from Hampton University, an ALM with a concentration in international relations from Harvard University, and a doctorate of law and policy from Northeastern University.