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The legacy of slavery still shapes our cities, roads, and stories today. Understanding our history will help us make sense of our world—and fight for a better one.

#1 New York Times Bestselling Author of How the Word Is Passed and Above Ground | Atlantic Staff Writer

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How to Raise a Black Son in America (5:12)

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How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (1:03:45)

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Our understanding of Black American history has been incomplete for a long time. But “how you once told the story doesn’t have to be how you tell the story forever,” says Clint Smith. In his #1 New York Times bestseller How the Word Is Passed, Clint explores the legacy and narratives of slavery around different historical sites like old plantations where enslaved people worked, and offers a compelling, nuanced perspective on the history of this country. One of The NYT’s 10 Best Books of the Year, How the Word Is Passed was called “an extraordinary contribution to the way we understand ourselves” by the New York Times Book Review. In talks, Clint challenges us to reckon with our past “honestly, proactively, and precisely.” When we recognize the ecosystem of stories that influence our understanding of history, he says, we can better make sense of the world we live in today—and choose to build a better world for those who come after us.

The detail and depth of the storytelling is vivid and visceral, making history present and real. Smith deftly connects the past, hiding in plain sight, with today’s lingering effects. — NPR

An Atlantic staff writer and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith is revolutionizing how we understand the history of our country, the physical places where we live, and the stories we tell about the world around us. Through his vital writing and talks, he argues that understanding our history not only enables us to understand our world, but also empowers us to fight for racial justice.

“From the moment enslaved people arrived on these shores, they were fighting for freedom,” he says. “The vast majority of people who fought for freedom never got a chance to experience it for themselves. But they fought for it anyway, because they knew that someday, someone would. What kind of responsibility does that bestow upon us? To attempt to build the sort of world that we might not see ourselves, because that’s what was done for us.”

Clint’s bestselling books include How the Word Is Passed, which Publishers Weekly called “an essential consideration of how America’s past informs its present.” In it, Clint takes us on a journey through landmarks that are both honest and dishonest about the past, offering a sweeping yet personal history of how slavery has shaped our country and ourselves. It has won numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, and was named one of the best books of the year by TIME, The New York Times, The Economist, The Washington Post, and many more.

His latest book, Above Ground, was named to TIME magazine’s 100 Must-Read Books and NPR‘s Books We Love. A vibrant poetry collection that traverses the vast emotional terrain of fatherhood, TIME called it “a beautiful meditation not only on Smith’s own journey as a dad, but also on the effect our ever-changing world has on the way we raise our children.” Clint’s first book, Counting Descent, won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. In his forthcoming book, Just Beneath the Soil, Clint will explore the little-known stories behind World War II sites, and discuss how they shape our collective memory of the war.

Clint received his PhD in Education from Harvard University. He has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New America, the Emerson Collective, 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 many more. He is a former National Poetry Slam champion and a recipient of the Jerome J. Shestack Prize from the American Poetry Review.

Testimonials

Dr. Clint Smith was a resounding success! He was superb. He dazzled and captivated the attendees with an amazing presentation of the impact and effect of slavery. We highly recommend Clint Smith.

Urban League of Hampton Roads
Testimonials

The talk was just amazing and he was such a delight to work with! We sold out in-person audience with additional people registering through Zoom, for a total of over a thousand attendees. It is the largest online attendance we have had for a program in years. In addition, all of his books sold out.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Speech Topics

Race
How the Word Is PassedReckoning with Our Past to Build a Better World

Across the country are innumerable places that have direct ties to slavery—our schools, our streets, our prisons, our cemeteries, our cities—places that illustrate how some of this country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain view. In this talk, #1 New York Times bestselling author Clint Smith discusses how the history of slavery has shaped the contemporary landscape of inequality, and shares what he learned from trips to different historical sites throughout the country that are tied to slavery’s legacy.

Informed by scholarship and brought alive by the stories of people living today, Clint’s talk outlines how these places reckon with—or fail to reckon with—their relationship to slavery, and how it is our responsibility to collectively document, learn from, and account for this history. Drawing on his award-winning book, How the Word Is Passed, he shows how the history we tell ourselves was a long time ago really wasn’t that long ago at all. Audiences will walk away understanding not only how our country became like this, but where we go from here.

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The Arts
Above GroundParenthood and Poetry in a Changing World

The world we live in is changing faster than ever before. How do we grow and find our footing? In this talk, Clint Smith reads and discusses poems from his New York Times bestselling collection of poetry, Above Ground. There are poems that interrogate the ways our lives are shaped by both personal lineages and historical institutions. There are poems that revel in the wonder of discovering the world anew through the eyes of your children, as they discover it for the first time. There are poems that meditate on what it means to raise a family in a world filled with constant social and political tumult.

Above Ground wrestles with how we hold wonder and despair in the same hands, how we carry intimate moments of joy and a collective sense of mourning in the same body. Clint’s lyrical, narrative poems and insightful discussions bring the reader on a journey not only through the early years of his children’s lives, but through the changing world in which they are growing up—through the changing world of which we are all a part.

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Activism & Humanitarianism
Build a Better WorldUsing Your Classroom as a Space of Transformation

Being a teacher has never simply been about pedagogy or lesson plans. Teachers are in a unique position right now to help their students understand that the state of the world is not an inevitability, and that we shouldn’t accept it as such. They can help their students understand that the inequality we see across the world was created and constructed—and thus it can be deconstructed and reconstructed to build something better, something more just.

In this fireside chat, Clint Smith provides teachers with the framework and the tools to approach these conversations in their schools. A former English teacher and host of the YouTube series Crash Course Black American History, Clint offers his expertise and personal experience to audiences in education, encouraging them to use their classrooms as spaces of transformation to help students dream of building a better world.

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