Visiting Writer’s Series: Claudia Rankine
“There are billions of souls in the world and some of us are almost to be touching the depths of how it is and what it is to be human. On the surface we exist but just beyond is existence. I write to articulate that felt experience.”
Claudia Rankine is a Jamaican poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and New York City. In her most recently published work, Citizen, An American Lyric, which received the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, Rankine’s use of the second person address requires the reader to inhabit the body of a person of color experiencing the painful small cuts of racism’s micro-aggressions as they accumulate to deep, permanent wounds. The immersive scenes in Citizen, full of an insidious kind of subtle racism, give the lie to the oft-touted phrase “post-racial America. “[In Citizen] ‘Post-racial’ America is like Elsinore, in Hamlet,” writes, Dan Chiasson, of the New Yorker, “celebrating its renewal as a way of covering up its crimes.”
Notable for her unique form and genre bending- style of poetry and prose that combines essay, lyric and television imagery, Rankine has said of her formal risks, particularly her creative use of prose as a poet, that “The short answer for me relates to destination. Destination is another way of saying argument. In prose, I am climbing steps to a landing, a door, a view an outcome. I am accumulating toward a destination. I mean, I want you to understand. In prose, there is a pressure that feels literal, and there are limits.”
Rankine has been awarded the Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. She is currently the Aerol Arnold Chair of English at the University of Southern California, and in 2013, Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University. She is also the author of four other collections of poetry, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric, Plot, The End of the Alphabet, and Nothing in Nature is Private. Rankine has edited numerous anthologies, including American Women Poets in the Twenty-First Century: Where Lyric Meets Language (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) and American Poets in the Twenty-First Century: The New Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2007). Rankine has taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, University of Houston and Pomona College.
Jewel Edwards is the features editor at Café Américain and a third-year candidate in the American University’s Creative Writing MFA program.