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Author delivers debut with ‘Counting Descent’

9/22/2016, 5:54 p.m.
With “Counting Descent,” writer, teacher, Harvard Ph.D. candidate and award-winning poet Clint Smith explores the cognitive dissonance that results from ...
Author Clint Smith

With “Counting Descent,” writer, teacher, Harvard Ph.D. candidate and award-winning poet Clint Smith explores the cognitive dissonance that results from belonging to a community that unapologetically celebrates Black humanity while living in a world that often renders Blackness a caricature. The 2014 National Poetry Slam Champion, 2015 TED speaker and 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival speaker brings the reader on a powerful journey, forcing us to reflect on all that we learn growing up and all that we seek to unlearn moving forward.

Hailed by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” as “incredibly beautiful and powerful,” “Counting Descent” is sure to be one of the most talked about literary works this fall. It is Smith’s coming-of-age story that seeks to complicate our conception of lineage and tradition. The poems move fluidly across personal and political histories, all the while reflecting on the social construction of our lived experiences. The cultural references are thought-provoking and vehemently real with timely flecks of humor.

In the very first poem, Smith reveals that “Counting Descent” is an exposé, stating, “Perhaps that is why, even now, I can want so desperately to show you all of my skin, but am more afraid of meeting you, exposed, in open water.” From then on the reader is immersed in raw revelations that speak to racial double standards, spark conversations on masculinity and shatter stereotypes of Blackness. Powerful metaphors paint vivid pictures—snapshots into the author’s existence as an individual and a Black man in America. Weighty, yet relatable, Smith’s writing makes the reader feel that they’ve lived every line in every poem.

The author of “Long Division,” Kiese Laymon, said about Smith’s book debut: “In ‘Counting Descent,’ Clint Smith soars and patiently walks between Harvard Square and New Orleans, between the gap in his father’s teeth and Baldwin’s conversation with the Protest Novel, between the movement of Drake’s hands and joy of sliding down a slide with his mother. Nothing, not one word, verse or line feels forced. ‘Counting Descent’ is more than brilliant.”

In Smith’s words, “Poetry is the opportunity to step outside of yourself, to realize that there is a world that exists beyond your own eyes, beyond your own body. It can be an exercise in radical empathy, illuminating the things we would rather not see.”

Smith is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University in Education with a concentration in Culture, Institutions and Society. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop and the National Science Foundation. Before beginning graduate school, Smith taught high school English in Prince George’s County, Md., where in 2013 he was awarded the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year award by the Maryland Humanities Council. His TED Talks on the subjects of “how to raise a Black son in America,” “the danger of silence” and “reframing the narrative around our students” have garnered more than 4 million views. In the summer of 2016, Smith was a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where he shared his take on poetry as activism and the power of the youth voice to start a movement. His writing has been published in the The New Yorker, The Guardian, The American Literary Review, Boston Review, Harvard Educational Review and other publications. “Counting Descent” is his first full-length book of poetry.

Smith will be speaking and performing at the following venues: Sept. 23 at the Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E. Third St. between Avenue B and Avenue C; and Sept. 27 at Revolutions Books, 437 Malcom X Blvd. at 132nd Street.

For more information, visit www.clintsmithiii.com or follow Smith on Twitter @ClintSmithIII.