Lit Louisiana highlights the state’s contemporary literature and brings significant books and authors from the past to the readers of Verite.

Clint Smith is a New Orleans native who wrote “How The Word is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, a New York Times bestselling non-fiction book about his observations, interviews, and research on important centers of the slave trade. 

He writes in a poetic, conversational style so that the reader travels with him from Goree Island to New York City to Louisiana. Locally, he explores the Whitney Plantation and Angola Prison. His observations illuminate knowledge that some of us possess — that there was a bitter fight to take down the Confederate statues or that the population around the Whitney is 90 percent Black or that common vestiges of human captivity surround us in French Quarter boutiques converted from pens and auction houses. 

However, he drills down to tell us, for example, that Angola is the largest maximum security prison in the country or Thomas Jefferson said “a child raised every two years is of more profit than the crop of the best laboring man.” There are many such illuminating and grim facts. 

Smith also credits New Orleanians who explored the legacy of slavery decades ago like Leon Waters who published Albert Thrasher’s 300-page-plus history “On To New Orleans: Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt” that I purchased sometime in the early 1970s. Smith also credits his ancestors who experienced Louisiana slavery firsthand. Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic magazine. “How The Word is Passed” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and many other recognitions.

The essay “Princes and Powers,” by James Baldwin, anthologized in “The Price of the Ticket,” is the author’s report on the first international conference of Black writers from the African continent and the diaspora that was held in Paris in 1956. 

At that time, much of Africa was still colonized by Europeans and Southern segregation was deeply entrenched. The essay highlights the important voices at this conference and contrasts the divergent views of the participants. It’s worth reading for an understanding of the intellectual movements that led to Pan Africanism, Negritude, and Civil Rights. 

YouTube video

Lumières Noirs (Black Lights) is a documentary on YouTube that describes the conference and discusses personalities and theories.

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Fatima Shaik is the author of seven books including "Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood," the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2022 Book of the Year. She is a native of...