Tracy K. Smith at the Brattle Theatre
To Free the Captives:
A Plea for the American Soul
in conversation with IBRAM X. KENDI
November 7, 2023
6:00 PM ET
(Doors at 5:30)
40 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Harvard Book Store welcomes TRACY K. SMITH—Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and memoirist and a professor of English and of African and African American Studies at Harvard—for a discussion of her latest book, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul. Joining in conversation is Boston University professor Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award–winning author of fifteen books including the bestselling Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.
There are two ticket options for this event.
Book Included: Admission for one and a signed copy of To Free the Captives.
Admission Only: Admission for one
About To Free the Captives
In 2020, heartsick from constant assaults on Black life, Tracy K. Smith found herself soul-searching and digging into the historical archive for help navigating the “din of human division and strife.” With lyricism and urgency, Smith draws on several avenues of thinking—personal, documentary, and spiritual—to understand who we are as a nation and what we might hope to mean to one another.
In Smith’s own words, “To write a book about Black strength, Black continuance, and the powerful forms of belief and community that have long bolstered the soul of my people, I used the generations of my own patrilineal family to lean backward toward history, to gather a fuller sense of the lives my own ancestors led, the challenges they endured, and the sources of hope and bolstering they counted on. What this process has led me to believe is that all of us, in the here and now, can choose to work alongside the generations that precede us in tending to America’s oldest wounds and meeting the urgencies of our present.”
To Free the Captives touches down in Sunflower, Alabama, the red-dirt town where Smith’s father’s family comes from, and where her grandfather returned after World War I with a hero’s record but difficult prospects as a Black man. Smith considers his life and the life of her father through the lens of history. Hoping to connect with their strength and continuance, she assembles a new terminology of American life.
Bearing courageous witness to the terms of Freedom afforded her as a Black woman, a mother, and an educator in the twenty-first century, Smith etches a portrait of where we find ourselves four hundred years into the American experiment. Weaving in an account of her growing spiritual practice, she argues that the soul is not merely a private site of respite or transcendence, but a tool for fulfilling our duties to each other, and a sounding board for our most pressing collective questions: Where are we going as a nation? Where have we been?
Praise for To Free the Captives
“Tracy K. Smith is one of the most beautiful and profound writers of our time. I wept and laughed my way through these gorgeous pages. She teaches us how our beloved ancestors remain our protectors and guides, and how—in Black life—past and present merge in the persistence of injustice and the resilience of our ancestral legacies.” —Imani Perry, author of South to America
“A vulnerable, honest look at a life lived in a country still struggling with its evils. Tracy K. Smith has also written a book for her children and for us. Hopeful, despite all that she sees and feels so deeply, that the freed will soon be truly free. Beautiful and haunting all at once.”—Eddie S. Glaude Jr., author of Begin Again
“A unique intelligence guides the hand of Tracy K. Smith through the archives. It is an intelligence that is both fierce and composed; both compassionate and unflinching. And if intelligence is a kind of light, this light is the kind that allows alchemy. Under its radiance, the violence of the archive becomes one of the most powerful meditations on history, time, and the thread of ancestry that I have read.”—Valeria Luiselli, author of Lost Children Archive
Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 10 minutes
As you exit the station, cross Mass. Ave. and proceed along Brattle St. Follow Brattle St. as it curves to the right in Brattle Square (follow the sidewalk on the right side of the street). The Brattle will be on the left-hand side of the street. The building is shared with Algiers Cafe and Alden & Harlow Restaurant, and the theatre entrance is on the left side of the building—look for the sidewalk poster case and marquee.
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