When Alexandra Schwartz interviewed poet Claudia Rankine last summer for the New Yorker, she asked her how her award-winning poetry collection, "Citizen: An American Lyric," came about.
Here's what Rankine answered:
I started working on “Citizen” as a way of talking about invisible racism—moments that you experience and that happen really fast. They go by at lightning speed, and you begin to distrust that they even happened, and yet you know that you feel bad somehow. My husband is a great fan, or used to be a great fan, of Tiger Woods, and so I started by watching a lot of golf tournaments. I am a great fan of the Williams sisters, and I would watch tennis. You began to see a lot of little moments, and they would happen, and they would happen, and they would happen, at the U.S. Open and at various other Grand Slams, and I thought, “I’m going to start documenting these.”
And as I began documenting them in Serena Williams’s playing life, I started doing it in my own life. Then I started interviewing people and asking them for stories in their lives. I specifically said, to people I met and to friends, “Tell me a moment when you suddenly found yourself feeling invisible or internally unsettled by something that came down to a moment that you then read as racism, but I want it to happen between you and a friend.” I didn’t really care too much about what people were doing in Ferguson, at this level. I meant in their day-to-day working lives. And then, as people began to tell me stories, I began to see it in my own life, everywhere, happening, and I just started writing them down.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, poet Claudia Rankine earned a BA at Williams College and an MFA at Columbia University. She is a former Queens University instructor in its MFA program.
Rankine has published several collections of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), a finalist for the National Book Award; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (2004); and Nothing in Nature is Private (1994), which won the Cleveland State Poetry Prize.
Claudia Rankine Reads:
When: 8:30-9:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 16
Where: Ketner Auditorium, Queens University
Cost: Free and open to the public.