During Black History Month, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the many incredible Black woman artists that we know and love. Our next artist is the brilliant Claudia Rankine!
Claudia Rankine is a poet, essayist and playwright, best known for her highly-acclaimed poetry collection, Citizen: An American Lyric.
Claudia was born in Kingston, Jamaica, then attended Williams College and Columbia University. She then published five collections of poetry: Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), The End of the Alphabet (1998), Plot (2001), Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004), and Citizen: An American Lyric (2014).
Claudia’s poetry centers around her own experiences as a Black woman, and the general landscape of racism in America. As an essayist as well, her poetry pushes the bounds of what a poem actually is, shifting seamlessly between lyricism and prose, often with longer stanzas and a storytelling quality.
Though all of her collections are literary triumphs, Citizen: An American Lyric granted Claudia most of her critical success. Citizen is a meditation on issues of race in America on a large scale and in small, interpersonal moments.
As FF2 contributor Joycelyn Ghansah describes, the collection contains “bits of police brutality, mistaken neighborly identity, and moments when friends see characters as too woke and Black for their comfort. The book makes you think about the Black body and its unwelcomeness in many spaces. We have guilt, shame, and anger all around, and Citizen embodies that in a collection of thoughts focused on the effects of racism on the individual and society as a whole.”
Citizen received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the PEN/Open Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the NAACP Image Award, and was the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.
After her outstanding years writing poetry, Claudia moved into playwriting, publishing three plays: HELP, The White Card, and Provenance of Beauty, which have been performed all over the country. Like her poems, her plays continue to interrogate the systemic racism in America, exploring how these dynamics play out in interpersonal conversations and individual stories. HELP, for example, recounts real conversations that Claudia has had in various “liminal spaces” such as an airport.
Claudia also founded the Racial Imaginary Institute, an interdisciplinary collective where artists, writers, activists, and more can interrogate questions of race in a variety of ways.
Claudia is one of the most powerful poets and thinkers of our time, with an ability to examine systemic racism with nuance and in a moving way. Whether it is her distinct poetic style or the arresting stories that she tells, Claudia’s impact as a writer and an activist is strong.
© Julia Lasker (2/14/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Jocelyn Ghansah’s review of Citizen: An American Lyric here.
Explore Claudia Rankine’s work here.
Learn more about the Racial Imaginary Institute here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: “Author photo of Claudia Rankine” by Abremmer licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.