Claudia Rankine

Citizen: An American Lyric


A genre-bending meditation on race, racism, and citizenship in 21st-century America.

Citizen: An American Lyric, published in 2014 by Claudia Rankine, 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.

Claudia Rankine
Claudia Rankine

By exposing the pervasiveness of systemic racism, Citizen encourages the reader to think critically about race in America today. Rankine aims to show how, taken collectively, these stresses upon African Americans can inhibit an ability to live full, meaningful lives. Rankine also explores the idea of how language is connected to our feeling of community and belonging and, therefore, to our citizenship.

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.

A provocative meditation on race, Citizen is Claudia Rankine’s long-awaited follow up to her groundbreaking book Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric.

Claudia Rankine is an essayist, poet, playwright and the editor of several anthologies; she is currently the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University. Citizen is the winner of numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, and the PEN Open Book Award. Citizen holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

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