Clint Smith talks to Marist students about his book for the FYS series — MARIST CIRCLE


On September 7, Marist College had the honor of hosting a “fireside chat” with Dr. Clint Smith as part of the Common Read program. The discussion was led by Dr. Patricia Tarantello, Director of the Marist First Year Seminary, and centered on her 2021 novel How the word passed.

Unlike a lecture-style presentation, Tarantello asked Smith questions relating to the book, creating a dialogue that students could follow. Most of the questions focused on his thoughts surrounding the book’s major social commentaries, with questions relating to his opinion of the education system and what he thinks are effective strategies for having difficult conversations.

Smith, wearing blue jeans and Nike Air Max. He wanted to be on equal footing with the rest of the students and introduced the speech by reassuring the audience that he had “been there”, referring to being a freshman with an assigned summer reading novel. . It is the tone that influences his answers throughout the discussion.

One of the questions asks him to employ effective strategies for having “difficult and honest conversations with others,” and his answer involves understanding the opposite perspective: “I wanted to understand why they believed what they believed… He would be so easy to go to a Sons of Confederate Veterans event and portray these people as racist caricatures.

He clarifies that “it is not that you excuse these beliefs, but that you understand where these beliefs come from”. Smith encourages her listeners to approach sensitive conversations by acknowledging how the other person came to their conclusions.

While writing the book, he realized he had an opportunity to fill in some little-addressed historical gaps. He cites a quote from a woman he interviewed at Monticello Plantation, where they talk about his perception of Thomas Jefferson after a tour where Jefferson’s history with slavery is more fully addressed: “It really takes away the shine of the guy.”

“Jefferson is a microcosm of America’s greatest project,” he says. “[He’s] someone who wrote one of the most important documents in the history of the western world, but he’s also someone who enslaved over 600 people. He says both of these things are part of American history, not one or the other; therefore, avoiding part of the story results in the telling of an incomplete story.

Without directly blaming the education system, he points out that, until he reached university, he was not equipped with the “toolbox” necessary to solve some of the social problems he would encounter, recalling the thought that “”[He knew] it’s wrong, but [he didn’t know] how to say it’s wrong.

A big part of his motivation in writing the book was to provide his readers with the information he wanted to have when he was still in school: “I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read when I was in my high school American History class.”

His ultimate point, both in the book and in the lecture, is to emphasize the importance of understanding the whole story and that the importance of context cannot be underestimated.

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