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The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  112 ratings  ·  14 reviews
"To think of creativity in terms of transcendence is itself specific and partial—a lovely dream perhaps, but an inhuman one.

"It is not only white writers who make a prize of transcendence, of course. Many writers of all backgrounds see the imagination as ahistorical, as a generative place where race doesn't and shouldn't enter, a place of bodies that transcend the legislat
Paperback, 256 pages
Published March 31st 2015 by Fence Books (first published November 11th 2014)
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Rachel S
[Note (after writing)--my reviews are also reflections, with forays more personal in context than perhaps what a review typically intends. My objective, generally, is to respond to the work from my experience. I've tried to designate and distinguish the reflecting from the reviewing, after the fact, but it doesn't separate so cleanly.]


I think this reading experience, for me, is beyond that of the book's scope itself--the project of writing race, (identity, other or self) that it ta
Susan Merrell
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Read this for the Stony Brook MFA faculty's book club, and am so glad I did. Without providing answers (a smarter book than that), this collection of essays raises a multitude of questions about race and the way we live in the world as writers of all colors, and it is no bullshit great. So looking forward to talking this book over with my colleagues.
Lisa Eckstein
Mar 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2015
I'm interested in the topics tackled in this anthology: how writers address fraught subjects, how to engage in discussions about race, how to write well about and across racial differences. In these essays, writers (mostly poets) reveal how race impacts (or doesn't) their work and their careers. The wide range of viewpoints and approaches make this a great anthology to read, study, and contemplate. The book itself is beautifully designed and includes artwork selected for its relevance to the top ...more
Kristin Canfield
Oct 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Ooh I'm imagining using this book as an anchor text for so many different types of classes.
Brandon Amico
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading; a diverse group of poets and writers discuss how race is approached or avoided in our work, in our lives, and the areas where they intersect. Among many other topics and branches of the discussion of race, I particularly appreciated a frank look at "whiteness" and how it manifests, erases, or frames so many interactions and expectations, and what we can do to move away from the "whiteness-as-default" mindset in writing and in life; not to mention how to think abo ...more
Gabrielle Bates
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Terrific collection of letters and essays. Totally transformed how I think as a writer. Among the many challenging gifts this book gave me was that it brought to light many of the (damaging) tropes white writers often turn to when attempting to write about issues of race and racism. The voices assembled here speak to a wide range of perspectives; they do not all agree, and as a reader, you must grapple with each one on its own terms, listening and questioning.
Mar 20, 2020 added it
Outstanding foreword and a wonderful breadth of writing that attempts to tackle speaking/writing about race. My copy is marked with lots of stickers and underlined passages. The section on 'Readings' was particularly illuminating, and I'll be thinking about parts of this book for a long time.
Nov 21, 2019 added it
Essential reading for anyone who reads, writes, teaches, or otherwise leads a thinking life.
womanist bibliophile
Jan 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A thought-provoking collection of diverse forms--open letters, visual art, essays, and poems--from a wide range of contributors exploring the ways in which implicit racial bias and overt lived experiences of racial oppression or privilege variously influence and shape the writer, the educator, the reader, and the student. This book is an illuminating and indispensable work on the subject of race in the literary imagination, one that demonstrates the undeniable impact of how race works on the sub ...more
Josephine Ensign
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
This was an interesting collection to read and look through (includes photos of different types of art as well as letters and essays)--all in response to an open letter/questions by poet Claudia Rankine on writing and race. I found many of the responses in the book thought-provoking, although many of them were way too stuck inside the stultifying language confines of 'academese'--and thus, not so broadly accessible.
Hannah Notess
Jan 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is worth picking up just for the introduction, which is incredibly clear-eyed about writing and race - I would unhesitatingly recommend it to any literary writer.

The quality of the pieces in the anthology vary (which is normal and as an editor of an anthology I feel I can say this is normal), as do the form, but there's lots of good food for thought and meaningful reflection.
Alyson Hagy
Dec 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A thoughtful, provocative, essential collection of essays and art that address how writers might/can/should approach questions of race. The collection is wide-ranging (and even contradictory) by design. Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap have done all of us a great favor with this book.
Oct 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ja-fandom
While I didn't have time to deeply read this, the good chunk of entries (essays? blog posts? some are more 'free-form' than others) I did read were thought-provoking and worth my time. The art! Get this just so you have an excuse to look at some great contemporary art that investigates questions of race.
Jacob Wren
May 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Jericho Brown, from his text Love the Masters:

Poets whose work supports the status quo often fail to acknowledge that their poems are just as political as poets whose work questions it.

I think this book is incredibly important and everyone should read it.

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Claudia Rankine is an American poet and playwright born in 1963 and raised in Kingston, Jamaica and New York City.

Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, including "Citizen: An American Lyric" and "Don’t Let Me Be Lonely"; two plays including "The White Card," which premiered in February 2018 (ArtsEmerson and American Repertory Theater) and will be published with Graywolf Press in 20

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