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What is NYU Reads?

NYU Reads brings the NYU community together around a single common reading, chosen by a University committee made up of faculty, student, and administrator representatives. Building on our undergraduate schools’ first-year reading programs, NYU Reads extends this dialogue beyond NYU Welcome and opens it up to the entire University community.

2023-24: How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith

How the Word Is Passed book cover.

In How the Word Is Passed, author Clint Smith documents his travels to eight places in the United States (and one abroad)—to plantations, prisons, cemeteries, historical landmarks and cities, including New York City—to consider the gaps in our collective memory of American slavery. Through his reported conversations with fellow visitors to these spaces, Smith teases out the difference between history and nostalgia, between what happened and what we may have come to believe happened: the difference, for instance, between the perception that New York as a northern state opposed slavery, and the fact that by the mid-18th century, one in five people living in New York City was enslaved.

How the Word Is Passed is a powerful reminder of the importance of historical research and an honest consideration of how this research plays out directly in our own lives today. Sensitively, patiently and persistently, Smith asks and answers deeply challenging questions: How have we been taught to remember? Whom do we memorialize? Smith interrogates how we come to know what we know, models ways to question that knowledge, and shows readers how to be courageous enough to let new realizations in.

How the Word Is Passed won the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and was named one of the top ten books of 2021 by the New York Times.

Accessing the Book

From the NYU Libraries

From the NYU Bookstore

You can purchase a paperback copy from the NYU Bookstore.

Resources and Support

If you need emotional support while reading How the Word Is Passed, professional counselors are available to talk 24/7 through the Wellness Exchange hotline at +1-212-443-9999 or to chat through the Wellness Exchange app (available in the Apple App Store or Google Play).

For First-Year Students

Events and discussions for How the Word Is Passed will take place primarily in the Fall 2023 semester, with some additional programming in Spring 2024. We recommend that you plan to read How the Word Is Passed over the summer, before the start of the Fall semester.


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