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Reading Programs, Resources, and Communities: Citizen: An American Lyric

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About the Author

Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For her book Citizen, Rankine won both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN Literary Award, the NAACP Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was the first book ever to be named a finalist in both the poetry and criticism categories); and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in California and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

In 2016, Rankine was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship (commonly referred to as "the genius grant").

More from Rankine:

Book Discussions

Four discussions will be held. Come to as many as you like - no two discussions are the same.

START HERE - Want to talk about race but don't know where to start? Claudia Rankine's book explores facets of race and racism in America. Join us! [Note: this discussion will focus on the book's themes, not on poetry as a form.]

  • Wednesday, 11/2/16, noon-1:00 pm, Glatfelter Lodge
  • Wednesday, 11/2/16, 7:00-8:30 pm, Glatfelter Lodge

DIG DEEPER - Ready to explore more? These discussions will go a little deeper into how race intersects with other elements of identity for American citizens. We encourage readers to draw connections between Citizen and other texts (including the two titles already read as part of #GBCTalks).

  • Monday, 11/14/16, noon-1:00 pm, Glatfelter Lodge
  • Monday, 11/14/16, 5:00-6:30 pm, Glatfelter Lodge


  • An additional "dig deeper" opportunity will be available on Thursday, 12/1/16, 12-1 in the Lyceum (Penn Hall 3rd floor). This is a talk about gender and mass incarceration by American University Prof. Sheeda Mensah. Prof. Greene kindly extends an invitation to all #GBCTalks readers to join her students at this event.

Questions to Consider

Citizen: An American Lyric Reading Guide

This reading guide from Grand Valley State University includes:

  • questions to consider before you read
  • discussion questions by chapter
  • resources to consult after reading
  • additional resources to help you dig deeper into Rankine's references

Discussion questions used for our "START HERE" discussions on 11/2/16:

  1. Which poem in section 1 (p 1-19) resonates with you the most? Why?
  2. Why does Rankine repeat the questions "what did you say?" and "what do you mean?" throughout the book? What different or multiple meanings do these questions carry?
  3. What does Rankine mean by "self self" and "historical self" on page 15? Have you experienced one or both of these selves?
  4. This poetry collection includes many images. Which one has the most meaning for you? Which one is the most puzzling? Or most troubling? Select one image you'd like to discuss more with the group.
  5. Reflect on the overall structure of the book and the choices that Rankine makes to move between poetry and prose, infusing her thoughts with images.
  6. Discuss the title of the book. What meaning does the word "citizen" hold for you? For Rankine? (See also page 151) How does it connect with the book's dedication?

Discussion questions used for "DIG DEEPER" discussions on 11/14/16:

  1. What does Rankine mean when she uses the word “citizen”? How is it used in the book and how does this collection of poems hold together under that title?
  2. The book's epigraph is from a famous 1983 French documentary called Sans Soleil: “If they don’t see happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black.” After reading the book, why do you think Rankine chose this passage to open the volume?
  3. What does the image on page 147 say about racism and/or citizenship? What other images in the book would you like to discuss?
  4. What connections did you draw between Citizen and other texts? What do you want to read or learn about next, as a result of reading this book?
  5. Does this book act as a protest text? In which ways does it document the experiences of People of Color in the world and/or call out oppressive structures?
  6. How does this book  work as a learning tool?
  7. Part 6 depicts a series of micro- and macro-aggressions against Black people around the world. What is the effect of merging these tragedies together in a linear way?