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Citizen: An American Lyric

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  19,860 Ratings  ·  2,126 Reviews
A provocative meditation on race, Claudia Rankine's long-awaited follow up to her groundbreaking book Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric.

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 intenti
Paperback, 169 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Graywolf Press (first published January 1st 2014)
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Kim "Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston's 'I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white…more"Serena and her big sister Venus Williams brought to mind Zora Neale Hurston's 'I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.' This appropriated line, stenciled on canvas by Glenn Ligon, who used plastic letter stencils, smudging oil sticks, and graphite to transform the words into abstractions, seemed to be ad copy for some aspect of life for all black bodies" (p. 25).(less)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Bill  Kerwin
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it

Do you remember that incident early in the primary campaign in 2016 when a young black woman staged a silent protest by reading a book during a Trump rally? Well, this is the book, and I think you should read it too. It covers some of the same ground as Coates' Between the World and Me, but Rankine is older and perhaps wiser. And Rankine got there first.

Her book is a well-constructed bricolage of anecdote, poetry, criticism, and multi-media presentation, expertly designed by Rankine's photograph
Dec 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is necessary and timely. It was timely fifty years ago. I pray it is not timely fifty years from now. Rankine takes on the realities of race in America with elegance but also rage/resignation... maybe we call it rageignation.

Outstanding book.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
**Update (4/6/16)** Tonight I had the privilege to attend a reading and discussion with Claudia Rankine here in Holland. It was a real treat. Especially powerful was seeing the visual elements of her book brought to life on the screen, with the video (made by her husband John Lucas), the music all mingling with her words to create an intensely powerful and emotive display. Rankine is a pure joy to hear read and speak, full of wit and humor and a reminder to us all that we all have the responsibi ...more
Dec 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was quite an emotional read for me, the instances of racial aggressions that were illustrated in this book being unfortunately all too familiar. The thing is, most people who commit these microaggressions don't realize they are making them yet they have an accumulated effect on the psyche. I hope this book will help people become more empathic to the plight of others. The question, "How difficult is it for one body to feel the injustice wheeled at another?" is so apt, especially for those o ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Dec 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Claudia Rankine is an absolute master of the written word. Her gripping accounts of racism, through prose and poetry, moved me deeply. I saw the world through her eyes, a profound experience.

I loved this small piece of prose, "feeling most colored when thrown against a sharp white background." As a huge Serena Williams fan, I read with rapt attention to the expose' on Serena's plunge against that sharp white background. I felt a sense of rage that has always been there, burning. For Serena has
Julie Christine
Look at the cover. A hoodie. The iconic image of American fear. Urban danger. Gang-bangers. A seventeen-year-old boy in Miami Gardens, FL.

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

The shooting death of an unarmed black man

Let Me Google That For You

Trayvon Martin
Michael Brown
Walter Scott
Ezell Ford

The hoodie on the cover is empty. Claudia Rankine fills it with experiences. The experiences of Americans whose color has rendered them invisible to the many w
Whitney Atkinson
Apr 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-in-2017
4.5 stars

I read about 40 pages of this back in September for Diverseathon, but for some reason, I really couldn't get into it then. Maybe it was that I should've have forced myself to read it in such a quick amount of time, because this story definitely warrants taking your time and digesting what it's trying to say. I continually put this off after that, citing that I was bored and didn't want to continue reading if it was going to be something painstaking.

However, I brought this book home with
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a poignant powerful work of art. It's more than a book. The sections study different incidents in American culture and also includes a bit about France (black, blanc beurre). (That part surprised me.) Rankine does a brilliant job taking an in-depth look at life being black. She says the things that we have all said and describes situations we have all been in. In the light of the horrors that are finally coming out in the US concerning the police and its poor treatment of Black Americans ...more
This is incisive poetry. I read it in a sitting. It's a sort of essay about the kinds of psychological burdens that black people have to deal with constantly about the stigmas of race and certain other people just want to ignore and drown out those who speak out about it. (See the one star reviews for the nasty details.)

I remember first hearing about this book from some sterile academic journal, but I was reminded of it again when a lady in the audience read it during a Trump rally in Iowa. I li
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Claudia Rankine zeros in on the microaggressions experienced by non-white people, particularly black females, in the United States.

These kinds of books basically make me feel:

Possibly the most memorable essay in here examines Serena Williams and her experiences in tennis - how she is portrayed, how she is treated on the court, her reactions and how those in turn are portrayed.

Also memorable to me are the little tidbits from Rankine's experience, such as people complaining to her about what they
Sep 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
claudia rankine is oxygen to a world under water.
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, nonfiction
A piercing and perceptive book of poetry about being black in America. With rightful anger and sadness Claudia Rankine details the racism she has experienced in the United States, as well as the racism that surrounds popular black people in the media like Serena Williams, Barack Obama, and Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson. As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow , we like to think that we live in a colorblind society, when in reality that false belief just blinds us to the ways ...more
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Race is something we Americans still have not gotten right. Rankine’s small book of essays tells us the myriad ways we consistently misinterpret others’ motives, actions, language. She writes in second person: "you." It is agonizing to display our flayed skin to the salt of another day. You take to wearing sunglasses inside.

I call these essays while Holly Bass in the NYTimes calls them poems. They are fragments, scripts or screenplays for video or film, shards of thought, sharp and able to pierc
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-read-fiction, 2017
"Those years of and before me and my brothers, the years of passage, plantation, migration, of Jim Crow segregation, of poverty, inner cities, profiling, of one in three, two jobs, boy, hey boy, each a felony, accumulate into the hours inside our lives where we are all caught hanging, the rope inside us, the tree inside us, its roots our limbs, a throat sliced through and when we open our mouth to speak, blossoms, o blossoms, no place coming out, brother, dear brother, that kind of blue."

Nicholas Sangiacomo
Feb 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
I really, really want somebody to explain to me how this book is anything more than a commercialization of white guilt, specifically within the 'intellectual' community.

We are reading this in a poetry class at my college, and I am shocked that people are so reverent. I am not turned off by the fact that this is verse poetry. I get it-- poetry can come in all forms and styles.

But this book sucks for two reasons, and the first is that the appeal of this book lies solely in White Guilt. This book
Tori (InToriLex)
Find this and other Reviews at In Tori Lex

This book is a beautiful reflection at how racist microaggressions that most minority's face mentally chip away at the people who experience them. It's documents the weight of excusing racists slights and ignoring views in attempts to just exist as human.The book navigates between short poems and powerful vignettes. One of the most memorable being the disconcerting feeling and shame that happens when your friend says something to you that is racist, and
Book Riot Community
After reading Citizen, it’s hard not to hear Rankine’s voice as I ride the subway, walk around NYC, or even pick up other books. What did he say? What did she just do? We live in a culture as full of microaggressions as breaking new headlines, and Citizen brings it home. Whether Rankine is talking about tennis or going out to dinner, or spinning words until you’re not sure which direction you’re facing, there is strength, anger, and a call for white readers like myself to see what’s in front of ...more
Jake Goretzki
May 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
Clearly - from the blurb and the plaudits - this is an 'important work' - and my failure to 'get it' is a failure to police my mind (or something). Ominously, it got rave reviews from Hilton Als - whose recent memoir gave me similar migraines.

I did find moments of lucidity (on Serena Williams; on everyday racism; on Zidane). But for the most part, I found this terribly self-indulgent, formless adolescent gloop that felt like listening to a cultural studies student breathlessly talking about las
Citizen: An American Lyric is a powerful work, the most recent by poet Claudia Rankine. It is cry about racism, prose and poetry with the line between the two often blurred or non-existent. It is "political poetry" at its best, most moving, uncomfortable for me as a white woman but searing and with a beauty in the language that conveys the ugliness, the horror in much of what it tells.

The book sent me to Youtube to hear Rankine reading, Rankine interviewed.

Rankine is a major force, a brilliant p
Oct 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I'll just say it. Most important poetry book of the year. Brilliant, deeply troubling, beautiful.

It better dang well win the National Book Award.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Rivetingly worth it for the Serena Williams section and the slices of life in the first half that so effectively/efficiently dramatize overt and less obvious instances of racism. I didn't engage to the same degree with the deeper-POV parts (prose poems) or the situation video texts toward the end I suppose because the indirect, abstracted approaches didn't shake me as much (charge me, more so; make me feel more alert, as though reading a thriller) and maybe felt more like they were being used, f ...more
Nov 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who thinks this is a "post-racial era"
Recommended to Richard by: PW review
I am not rating this as a book of poetry.

CITIZEN is a difficult book, not because of the language but because of the cumulative effect of purposeful and absent-minded and unaware racist incidents. Whereas, for me at least, the power of poetry arises from the uses of language and its incredible compression, and its reformulation of reality, this work develops on accumulated incident.

An early example is based on Serena Williams and her experiences on the tennis court with a dishonest umpire and an
David Schaafsma
I repeat what Bill Kerwin reminded me of in his review of this book: At a Trump rally, there is a woman sitting behind him reading a book while he speaks. Citizen: An American Lyric is the book she was reading. Trump is of course unapologetically and infamously racist against various races (and religions, women, and so on), so the woman behind Trump uses the opportunity to read this anti-racist book, knowing it will get national coverage; we see the title, we check it out: Powerful political com ...more
Karen Witzler
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Magnificent. Read it all in one flow. Claudia Rankine gives us an act of creativity and illumination that combats the mirror world of unseeing and unseen-ness that is imprinted onto the American psyche.I can't fix it or even root it out of myself but Rankine gives me, a white reader, (are there other readers - the mirror keeps reflecting...), a moment when I can walk through the glass. And this is why I read books.

Ron Charles
Jan 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Had the pleasure of talking to Claudine Rankine's editor about this remarkable book:
A damn hard read but a damn necessary one.
You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived.
It's been peculiar witnessing the waves of hype surrounding Between the Wo
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetshere
Citizen is an exploration of attitudes, a loose leaf dispatch on race. Is it a meditation on anger? On images and bodies?Is language as violent as memory? Is it privilege to be oblivious?

I said aloud while reading that, “my mental misanthropy is presently blooming.”

I stumbled upon this book this morning, fully unaware. It was digested in a futbol half.
Carol Peters
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
OMG, imagine if you found yourself queer, or, OMGOMG, Inuit, or, OMGOMGOMG, black.

You should read this book, as should every white (black), straight (queer) (all kind) person in this country & the world.

But most people won't read it because Rankine is an artist, she writes poetry & poetic prose, she is intelligent & associatively articulate, aka not as straightforward & graspable as a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

Rankine feels deeply AND can put those feelings in words t
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
I went to pick this up from the library and had some extra time so I started to read it. Before I knew it I had read over half of the book. It is just that good. Leaving the library I ordered a coffee at Starbucks and finished it. Now I am heading home where I will reread and really savor it. Beautiful writing which struck many cords in my memory. Who should read it? Everyone who has an interest in racial and human conditions.
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Claudia Rankine is an American poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City. She has taught at Case Western Reserve University, Barnard College, University of Georgia, and in the writing program at the University of Houston. As of 2011, Rankine is the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College.
More about Claudia Rankine

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“because white men can't
police their imagination
black men are dying”
“The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow.” 44 likes
More quotes…