DiscoverOn Being with Krista Tippett[Extended] Clint Smith with Krista Tippett
[Extended] Clint Smith with Krista Tippett

[Extended] Clint Smith with Krista Tippett

Update: 2023-11-021


This phrase recurs throughout Clint Smith's writing: "in the marrow of our bones." It is an example of how words can hold encrypted wisdom — in this case, the reality that memory and emotion lodge in us physically. Words and phrases have carried this truth forward in time long before we had the science to understand it.

Clint Smith is best known for his 2021 book, How the Word Is Passed, but he is first and foremost a poet. He and Krista discuss how his various life chapters have been real-world laboratories for him to investigate the entanglement between language and the intelligence of the body — and the related entanglement between history and place. His poetic sensibility has singularly opened readers to approach a generative reckoning with American history — on whatever side of that history our ancestors stood. 

Clint Smith has a way of making reckoning possible at a humanizing, softening, bodily level — in the marrow, you might say, of our bones.

Clint Smith is a staff writer at The Atlantic. His narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction and many other honors. His poetry collections are Counting Descent and Above Ground.

This interview is edited and produced with music and other features in the On Being episode "Clint Smith — What We Know in the ‘Marrow of Our Bones.’" Find the transcript for that show at


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[Extended] Clint Smith with Krista Tippett

[Extended] Clint Smith with Krista Tippett

On Being Studios