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An American Lyric

Claudia Rankine

Graywolf Press

Citizen Download image

ISBN10: 1555976905
ISBN13: 9781555976903


160 Pages



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Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry
Winner of the NAACP Image Award
Winner of the PEN Open Book Award
A Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry
A Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

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.


Praise for Citizen

“Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry's forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves. . . . Citizen throws a Molotov cocktail at the notion that reduction of injustice is the same as freedom.”—The New York Times Book Review

“It is a swift and gripping read.”—Boston Review

“Part protest lyric, part art book, Citizen is a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America.”—Michael Lindgren, The Washington Post

"Citizen is part documentary, part lyric procedural, submitting to its painstaking frame-by-frame analysis everything from J. M. W. Turner's painting 'The Slave Ship' to Zinedine Zidane's head-butt during the 2006 World Cup final . . . Citizen conducts its business, often, with melancholy, but also with wit and a sharable incredulity that sends you running to YouTube . . . As Rankine's brilliant, disabusing work, always aware of its ironies, reminds us, 'moving on' is not synonymous with 'leaving behind.'"—Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker

"The challenge of making racism relevant, or even evident, to those who do not bear the brunt of its ill effects is tricky. Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry's forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves. To wit, in many of her pieces, it's easy to presume the 'you' is always black and the 'she' or 'he' is always white, but within a few pages Rankine begins muddying the personas and pronouns in a way that forces us to work a little harder. This technique reaches its high point in a breathless, unpunctuated conclusion to her lament on the Jena Six, the group of black teenagers charged in Louisiana after the 2006 beating of a white student . . . As she did in her 2004 collection Don't Let Me Be Lonely, Rankine again works with a form she calls 'an American Lyric.' The writing zigs and zags effortlessly between prose poems, images and essays. This is the poet as conceptual artist, in full mastery of her craft. And while the themes of this book could have been mined from any point in America's history, Rankine sets the whole collection resolutely in the present. Contemporary content and contemporary form mirror each other . . . The bulk of the book consists of lyric prose poems, in present tense and second person. A reasoned, measured tone marks these personal accounts of everyday racism, events enacted by what the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates calls 'good people.' Rankine creates an intentionally disorienting experience, one that mirrors the experience of racial micro-aggressions her subjects encounter. Race is both referenced and purposely effaced within the text."—Holly Bass, The New York Times Book Review

"Accounts of racially charged interactions, insidious and flagrant, transpiring in private and in the public eye, distill the immediate emotional intensity of individual experience with tremendous precision while allowing ambiguity, ambivalence, contradiction, and exhaustion to remain in all their fraught complexity . . . Once again Rankine inspires sympathy and outrage, but most of all a will to take a deep look at ourselves and our society."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine is the author of four previous books, including Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. She currently is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Pomona College.