“Art profoundly changes who we are,” said American poet Claudia Rankine.
Rankine gave a reading of her work “Citizen: An American Lyric” at the Smith Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. The book is this year’s common read for the first year experience at HWS and has inspired campus dialogue around issues of race and racism in first-year classrooms and at community events. In anticipation of the reading, a faculty panel discussed Rankine’s work and a student art exhibition was held in conjunction with her visit.
Published in 2014, “Citizen” has received critical acclaim and has been widely recognized as “a defining text of our time” by academics and publishers. The winner of the National Book Awards Critics Circle Award for Poetry and a finalist for the National Book Award in the criticism category, “Citizen” is the first text to be nominated for both categories, as well as the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.
Rankine’s reading at the Smith, which also included a discussion of her work, was preceded by the student art exhibition “From Slave to Citizen.” The exhibit focused on themes of resilience, oppression and resistance and was displayed in the Davis Gallery at Houghton House, alongside “Into the AfroFuture” by Stacey Robinson in the Solarium Gallery. Robinson’s work will be on display until Dec. 9. She will also give a lecture on her art at Houghton House on Dec. 1 from 4:45 to 6 p.m.
Rankine is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University and is the author of five collections of poetry, two plays, and the editor of several anthologies including “The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind.” She also co-produces a video series, “The Situation,” and is the founder of the “Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination.” This year, she received the highly selective 2016 MacArthur Fellowship, and has plans to develop “The Racial Imaginary Institute” in NYC, a cultural laboratory that will deconstruct whiteness.
Her other awards and honors include the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts.
On Nov. 15, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature Kathryn Cowles, Assistant Professor of Economics Keoka Grayson, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Architecture Angelique Szymanek led a discussion on Rankine’s work in the context of American citizenship. The talk was moderated by Associate Professor of English Rob Carson.