2022-2023 Go Big Read Keynote Event with Clint Smith

November 7, 2022

Last Tuesday, November 1st, author Clint Smith spoke to a packed audience of students, faculty, and community members inside Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall for the 2022-2023 Go Big Read keynote event. Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin led the conversation, asking Smith about his writing process, inspiration, and upcoming book projects.

A packed audience of community members came to Shannon Hall to hear Clint Smith discuss How the Word is Passed. Photo by Althea Dotzour.

Smith offered insight into the other forms he originally envisioned How the Word is Passed taking before it emerged as a work of narrative nonfiction, including a previous iteration which would have been a collection of poems (like his forthcoming Above Ground). Smith also discussed his initial impetus for producing How the Word is Passed, as his own writing process emerged as a reaction to 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Smith described his desire to produce the kind of text he would have wanted to read in his youth, and to create an accessible work which would articulate the complicated and interconnected histories of slavery and discrimination in the United States. Looking ahead, Smith also previewed his next book, which he envisions as another narrative nonfiction work that will trace “how we memorialize and fail to memorialize World War Two,” both across the U.S. and across the Atlantic.

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health, asked Smith about his methods of self-care while writing. Photo by Althea Dotzour.

After Chancellor Mnookin’s discussion, the event opened up to a Q&A from audience members. Professor Angela Byars-Winston from the School of Medicine and Public Health asked Smith about the personal, emotional, and physical experience of producing a text like How the Word is Passed which deals so explicitly with trauma and generational heartache. Smith took the opportunity to express his gratitude for his experience of fatherhood, and for his family who were both “respite and reminder” in the process of producing the text.

Clint Smith and Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin in conversation on the Shannon Hall stage. Photo by Althea Dotzour.

The Go Big Read program seeks to bring together community and university members across Madison into collective conversation over a shared text. Smith’s remarks during this year’s keynote event reiterated how these conversations are also situated within both political contexts and personal relationships that unite family and national history through literature.

A recording of this year’s keynote is available via the program’s Kaltura channel.

By: Elise Kerns
Go Big Read Graduate Assistant