Reading Chico State’s book in common is the closest I get to being in a book club of any sort these days.

“The book in common is a shared, community read, designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues facing the broader community. The book in common is chosen each year by a group of university faculty, staff, students and community members,” the university’s website says.

Clint Smith, right, answers questions from faculty members on April 11 at Chico State. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Back Bay Books, 2021) by Clint Smith was the 2023-24 book “we” all read. The culmination was earlier this month with Smith giving a talk to the community. Earlier in the day he spent time in classrooms.

What I liked about this book is that I learned so much without ever feeling like I was being lectured to. The book is about Smith’s experiences going to various places in the United States and Africa that have a connection to slavery. But it’s not just about him. It’s about the role those places played in our history and the impacts they continue to have.

The chapters cover Monticello, Whitney plantation, Angola prison, Blandford cemetery, Galveston and Juneteenth, New York City, Africa, and his family. I had not heard of all of these locations before.

The talk gave a depth to the book because the faculty asking the questions wanted to know about Smith’s research process, how he picked the places he went to, and so much more.

He also talked about needing to listen to understand why people believe what they believe. And how if certain people’s narrative changes, it changes who they are and how they think of their ancestors.

Smith gave such lengthy answers that not many questions were asked. But that was OK. What he had to say was worth listening to. What he wrote in this book is even more important.

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