2024 Washtenaw Reads Selection: How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith
Published in June 2021 and a #1 NY Times Bestseller, How the Word is Passed is a multi-award winning work of nonfiction by Clint Smith. Previously, Clint taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Maryland where he was named the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year by the Maryland Humanities Council. He is the host of the YouTube series Crash Course Black American History.
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.
Beginning in his own hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader through 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 over 400 people on the premises. 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.
In 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—on which the brutal history of the trade in enslaved men, women and children has been deeply imprinted.
Informed by scholarship and brought alive by the story of people living today, Clint Smith’s debut work of nonfiction is a landmark work 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.
History of Washtenaw Reads
Launched in 2003 by the University of Michigan Life Sciences, Values and Society Program, the Reads project was fashioned after a civic reads program designed by the Seattle Public Library. The book chosen for the inaugural Reads was “Lincoln’s DNA,” by Phillip R. Reilly. The Ann Arbor District Library was a major partner in this effort along with other area organizations.
The following year, the Reads program became known as Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads and expanded to include Ypsilanti and was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti District Libraries and supported by interested civic groups, the University of Michigan School of LS&A, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Public Schools, local bookstores, Eastern Michigan University Libraries and Washtenaw Community College.
In 2016, the program was renamed Washtenaw Reads and expanded to include the communities and libraries of Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township and Saline.
Prior to 2014, each year's read had a theme, which can be viewed on the Past Reads page. Previous themes have included such subjects as: civil rights, science, citizenship and evolution.
Books chosen for the Reads should meet the following criteria:
- The writing should be engaging and thought-provoking.
- The subjects discussed should be accessible to readers throughout the community, high-school age and above.
- The length, price, and availability of the book should be suited to involvement by the general public.
- The book should be by a living author.
- Its treatment of issues should encourage readers to discuss the issues further with others, at home, work, reading clubs, and community events.
- Ideally, the subject should lead to constructive dialogues across our diverse communities.
During the summer the Book Screening Committee made up of individuals selected as representative of various civic constituencies read many titles reflecting the year’s theme. For the 2023 Read, three finalists have been selected and voting is now open to the public to assist in selecting the winner.