Claudia Rankine takes center stage for Visiting Writers Series

Claudia Rankine will be visiting Butler as apart of the Visiting Writers Series. Photo courtesy of Commonplace. 


Award winning poet and essayist, Claudia Rankine, will be the next writer featured in Butler’s Visiting Writers Series on Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Rankine is most notably the author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” a collection of poems she released in 2014. In addition to “Citizen,” Rankine has written four additional poetry books, two plays and several video essays. “Citizen” is the only poetry book to be featured on the New York Times Best Sellers list in the nonfiction category. Her next work, “The White Card: A Play,” is expected in March 2019.

Chris Forhan, an associate professor in Butler University’s English department, said he feels the timing of Rankine’s visit to Butler is important, especially when the school is making a push to add social justice and diversity courses to the core curriculum.

“Rankine is one of the most important contemporary voices on matters of race, identity and subjectivity,” Forhan said. “She brings the message of how complex and continually relevant these subjects are.”

“Citizen” focuses on Rankine’s experiences as a black woman and the microaggressions she, her friends and other black people experience. The topics of Serena Williams, Hurricane Katrina, Trayvon Martin and President Barack Obama’s first inauguration are discussed. The poetry book was met with praise as the Washington Post called it “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America.”

Forhan said he adores Rankine’s work for it’s incisiveness, boldness and stylistic innovation. If he had to choose a favorite, he would either choose “Citizen” or “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely.” Both pieces, he noted, contain the subtitle “An American Lyric.”

“That signals how the books are not just about the writer but about what it means to be a person in this particular society at this time, a society still haunted by and responding to the darkest parts of its history,” Forhan said.

Samantha Ferrante, a first-year MFA student, has been reading Rankine’s work for class and regularly attends events in the Visiting Writers series.  

“‘Citizen’ is a particularly heavy read because it is unapologetically both a book of poetry and a work of creative nonfiction,” Ferrante said.“ It asks us to walk back through only some of the shameful events of the past few years, while calling on important black voices to put recent systemic and personal traumas into a larger context.”

Rankine will have her Q&A next Tuesday at 2:30 – 3:30 PM in the Sun Room at the Efroymson Center for Creative Writing followed by a reading at Schrott Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. Each Visiting Writers Series event counts for a BCR.


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