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Claudia Rankine

Award-winning Poet
National Book Award Finalist

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • The Creative Imagination & Race
  • Poetry & Multimedia


FYE6“Claudia Rankine has made of her savage and stern intelligence, her ruthlessness and her terror, great art.” —Louise Glück

“One can only say thank you to such a poet.” —Jorie Graham

“A singular perspective, a consummate talent, and a courageous spirit.” —Jackson Prize Judges Citation 

Whether writing about intimacy or alienation, Claudia Rankine’s voice is one of unflinching and unrelenting candor, and her poetry is some of the most innovative and thoughtful to emerge in recent years. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and educated at Williams College and Columbia University, Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including her latest book, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf, 2014), a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry, and the award-winning Nothing in Nature is Private. In The End of the Alphabet and Plot, she welds the cerebral and the spiritual, the sensual and the grotesque. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely—a multi-genre project that blends poetry, essays, and image—is an experimental and deeply personal exploration of the condition of fragmented selfhood in contemporary America. Of this book, poet Robert Creeley said: “Claudia Rankine here manages an extraordinary melding of means to effect the most articulate and moving testament to the bleak times we live in I’ve yet seen. It’s master work in every sense, and altogether her own.”

In 2014, Rankine was awarded Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition. The judges commented, “In a body of work that pushes the boundaries of the contemporary lyric, Rankine has managed to make space for meditation and vigorous debate upon some of the most relevant and troubling social themes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Maintaining a firm grasp upon the tools we normally associate with the lyric poet, such as associative shifts and leaps, allusion, sonic agility, elegy, and a deep and resonant imagery, Rankine’s poems also foster a quite nearly cinematic sense of suspense, striking notes of urgency, anxiety, and momentous inevitability…These poems do the work of art of the highest order—teaching, chastening, changing, astounding, and humanizing the reader.”

Rankine is also the author of a play, Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, which is performed on a bus ride through the Bronx. The New York Times calls it an “engrossing urban adventure, which does not conform to the standard formula for theater but does make the bustle outside the bus throb with history, mystery and meaning, as the best live performances do.” She is also the founder of the Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination, and co-produces a video series, “The Situation,” alongside John Lucas.

Rankine co-edited the anthology American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, and her work is included in several anthologies, including Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, Best American Poetry 2001, Giant Step: African American Writing at the Crossroads of the Century, and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry. Her work has been published in numerous journals including Boston Review, TriQuarterly, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. She lives and teaches in California.


Claudia Rankine is the author of Citizen: An American Lyric; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; Plot; The End of the Alphabet; and Nothing in Nature is Private. In 2014 she was a National Book Award Finalist and also received Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition. Rankine co-edited the anthology American Women Poets in the 21st Century: Where Lyric Meets Language, and her work is included in several anthologies, including Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, Best American Poetry 2001, Giant Step: African American Writing at the Crossroads of the Century, and The Garden Thrives: Twentieth Century African-American Poetry.


CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC (2014)

“Claudia Rankine’s new book of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric—with its prose stanzas balanced on a fulcrum of resilience and rage—restores the intimacy of daily struggle to an often desaturated image of American life.” —Jonathon Sturgeon

Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

DON’T LET ME BE LONELY (2008)
In this powerful sequence of TV images and essay, Award-winning poet Claudia Rankine explores the personal and political unrest of our volatile new century. Rankine, well known for her experimental multi-genre writing, fuses the lyric, the essay, and the visual in this politically and morally fierce examination of solitude in the rapacious and media-driven assault on selfhood that is contemporary America. With wit and intelligence, Rankine strives toward clarity—of thought and imagination—while always arguing that recognition of others is the only salvation for ourselves, our art, and our government. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely is an important new confrontation with our culture, with a voice at its heart bewildered by its inadequacy in the face of race riots, terrorist attacks, medicated depression, and the antagonism of the television that won’t leave us alone. 


DON’T LET ME BE LONELY (excerpt)

There was a time when I could say no one I knew well had died. This is not to suggest no one died. When I was eight my mother became pregnant. She went to the hospital to give birth and returned without the baby. Where’s the baby? we asked. Did she shrug? She was the kind of woman who liked to shrug; deep within her was an everlasting shrug. That didn’t seem like a death. The years went by and people only died on television—if they weren’t Black, they were wearing black or were terminally ill. Then I returned home from school one day and saw my father sitting on the steps of our home. He had a look that was unfamiliar; it was flooded, so leaking. I climbed the steps as far away from him as I could get. He was breaking or broken. Or, to be more precise, he looked to me like someone understanding his aloneness. Loneliness. His mother was dead. I’d never met her. It meant a trip back home for him. When he returned he spoke neither about the airplane or the funeral.