Clint Smith is the 2014 National Poetry Slam champion and has given popular TED Talks on living as an African-American man in the United States.

Earlier this fall he published his first book of poetry, “Counting Descent.” He joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to talk about the book.

On what sparked his interest in writing poetry

“I’ve been writing poetry seriously since about 2008, 2009. I had a summer internship in New York City, and I went to the [Nuyorican Poets Cafe], which is a famous poetry cafe on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And so I went there and was just incredibly blown away by so much of the work that I saw, and had never been so viscerally moved by art as I had that evening. And I left, and I was kinda like, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I want to do it.’ And so I’ve been writing since then.

“And then I started graduate school the same week that Mike Brown was killed [in Ferguson, Missouri]. So it was impossible for me to sort of disentangle everything that I was learning of U.S. inequality — and specifically through the lens of race — and then seeing sort of the current manifestations and residue of that history served as catalysts to write this collection. I think for me it was a means of sort of processing and humanizing and seeking to grapple with what we were seeing at that time.”

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WBUR | Clint Smith


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