Citizen in the Classroom
Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is an innovative work of poetry, prose, and visual images that addresses race and its individual and collective effects.
Microaggressions and instances of racism in everyday encounters can be small slights, seemingly slips of the tongue. Or they can be intentional offensives in public and private life, in sports, online, on TV, everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Rankine’s work opens up room for reflection in the midst of this dangerous reality and invites readers to imagine new ways forward.
Citizen has won the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the Forward Prize for Best Collection (UK), the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry, and the PEN Open Book Award. Since publication in 2014, over 300,000 copies have been sold.
Connect with Graywolf if you have specific questions about teaching or discussing Citizen.
Citizen as a Teaching Tool
- Allows students to grapple with difficult issues in a safe space
- Provides an entry into discussing inequality through a personal or political lens
- Encourages artistic responses to current events
Citizen has been used in colleges and high schools across disciplines—from creative writing to political and feminist theory courses. It has also been adopted by campus-wide reading programs, including those at the University of Kansas, Washington University in St. Louis, Howard University, and many more.
Reviews and Media
We will read other works through [Rankine’s Citizen]. There’s something about that positionality of the first work that really sets the dialogue and sets the tone for future discussions.
Why are there textual differences between different copies of Citizen?[ more + ]
Careful readers will notice differences between copies of Citizen from different printings. Citizen has gone through twenty-two separate printings as of August 2020. You can find out which printing you're reading by looking on the copyright page of the book. Below the ISBN toward the bottom of the page is a line of numbers. The lowest number in that line is the book's printing.
The majority of a book's content does not change from printing to printing, but sometimes authors feel that changes are necessary in order to respond to current events or to further refine or clarify their texts. In Citizen, this can be seen in Rankine's changes to several pages in the book, but especially her changes to page 134. By including the names of additional African Americans who have been killed since each previous printing, Rankine is further underscoring the devastating urgency of Citizen's message. In this pdf, you can see page 134 from the first, second, third, eighth, tenth, thirteenth, fifteenth, seventeenth, nineteenth, and twenty-second printings of Citizen, one after another. Citizen is now in its twenty-second printing. The following Slate article also discusses these changes: "The New Printing of Citizen Adds a Haunting Message About Police Brutality."
Are there other resources I can access?[ more + ]
- Claudia Rankine's website has additional work exploring the themes of Citizen, including a series of video essays called "Situations." Rankine has also launched the Racial Imaginary Institute as a way to further explore the questions raised in the book.
- The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston compiled these discussion questions in collaboration with Graywolf.
- Southern Humanities Review has put out this resource for students and teachers.
- The Los Angeles Review of Books looked at Citizen from multiple angles: Roundtable I, Roundtable II, Symposium I, Symposium II
- Suzi F. Garcia wrote this piece about teaching Citizen for The University of Arizona Poetry Center's blog.
- At Teachers & Writers, Phylis Meshulam detailed the lesson plan she developed for sixth grade students to engage with Citizen.
- The City of Charleston, SC, received an NEA Big Read grant to make copies of Citizen available to residents, as reported by the Post and Courier.
Does Claudia Rankine have other recent work?[ more + ]
Along with recent pieces in the New York Times Magazine about Charleston, and a piece on NFL player Cam Newton in The Undefeated, Rankine also wrote a play, The White Card, which was produced in Boston in early 2018 and published by Graywolf in March 2019.
Rankine’s next book-length work is Just Us: An American Conversation, forthcoming from Graywolf in September 2020.