Portrait of Claudia Rankine by John Lucas
Portrait of Claudia Rankine by John Lucas

I think any poem, and any writer, is always breaking open the questions beneath the poem, or the writing. You’re always trying to figure out: what gives me the right to say x or y? What does that mean? When I say this, what does it mean? How does it mean might be even more important than what does it mean. And so I think that circling questions is really what writing is. That constant investigating of any statement, any word, any question mark, any punctuation…you know, all of those things. That’s writing. ~Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1963, immigrating to the United States with her parents when she was seven years old. She is a poet, essayist, playwright and the editor of several anthologies. She is the author of five volumes of poetry, two plays and various essays. When talking about how she came to be a writer, Rankine says, “I went to Williams College, a fantastic liberal arts school. I started writing in my sophomore year after reading the poet Adrienne Rich and thinking: this is almost right but does not quite say what I want to say…”

Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University. She has taught at the University of Houston, Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, and Pomona College. In 2017, she founded the Racial Imaginary Institute, a “a moving collaboration with other collectives, spaces, artists, and organizations towards art exhibitions, readings, dialogues, lectures, performances, and screenings that engage the subject of race.” She currently is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University.

Rankine’s most recent book, Citizen: An American Lyric, was so well received it requires a whole paragraph just to list the honors: the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Award, the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry (the first book in the award’s history to be nominated in both poetry and criticism), the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection, the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, the 2015 NAACP Image Award in poetry, the 2015 PEN Open Book Award, the 2015 PEN American Center USA Literary Award, the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award and the 2015 VIDA Literary Award. Citizen was also a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and was the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize. Citizen holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

Rankine herself has earned numerous awards and honors, including the 2014 Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the 2014 Jackson Poetry Prize, as well as a 2014 Lannan Foundation Literary Award. In 2005, she was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets. She is a 2016 United States Artist Zell Fellow and a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. In 2013, Rankine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets — Mark Doty praised her selection, saying: “Claudia Rankine’s formally inventive poems investigate many kinds of boundaries: the unsettled territory between poetry and prose, between the word and the visual image, between what it’s like to be a subject and the ways we’re defined from outside by skin color, economics, and global corporate culture. This fearless poet extends American poetry in invigorating new directions.”

Today’s CSU Black History Month events: Real Talk: Interracial Love, 4PM-5PM, LSC 335, and Expressions of Love Poetry Night, 6PM, LSC.