Poetry / Essay

by Claudia Rankine
October 2014 – Graywolf Press

What does it mean to be a citizen in a “post-racial” society? Through poetry, essay, cultural criticism, and visual images, DON’T LET ME BE LONELY author Claudia Rankine tackles the question head on, and the result is a powerful and devastating book unlike any other.

In CITIZEN, Rankine confronts racial aggressions, those she has experienced in life and those we have all experienced in the media and within ourselves. Some of these encounters are slights, seemingly slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV—everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive.

CITIZEN is an important and timely book, one that will become a touchstone in the necessary discussion about racism in America.

Claudia Rankine is the author of four previous books, including DON’T LET ME BE LONELY: An American Lyric. She currently serves as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and teaches at Pomona College in California.

Praise & reviews

Winner of the 2016 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry
Winner of the 2015 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Award
Winner of the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry
Winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection
Winner of the 2015 PEN Open Book Award
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry
Winner of Poets and Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry
One of the Guardian‘s Best Politics Books of 2015
One of the Guardian‘s Readers’ Books of the Year for 2015
One of Entropy’s Best Nonfiction books of 2015
One of MPR’s, The Atlantic‘s, the Guardian‘s, Pioneer Press, Bitch Media’s, Subtext Bookstore’s Best Books of 2015
Featured in the Millions « Year in Reading 2015 » by Angela Flournoy and Katrina Dodson
Finalist for 2014 National Book Award in Poetry
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
One of the Millions’ Most Anticipated Books
Featured in Literature Works’ Christmas Wish List of 2015 by Kathryn Simmonds
Featured in the Conium Review’s Best of 2015by James R. Gapinski

Among the « Best Books Of The Year 2015 » for The New Yorker, Boston Globe, BuzzFeed, NPR, Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Slate, Time Out New York, Vulture, Refinery 29

“So groundbreaking is Rankine’s work that it’s almost impossible to describe; suffice it to say that this is a poem that reads like an essay (or the other way around) — a piece of writing that invents a new form for itself, incorporating pictures, slogans, social commentary and the most piercing and affecting revelations to evoke the intersection of inner and outer life.”—Los Angeles Times

“A prism of personal perspectives illuminates [Rankine’s] meditations on race. . . . Powerful.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The moral vision of Claudia Rankine’s poetry is astounding. In a body of work that pushes the boundaries of the contemporary lyric, Rankine has managed to make space for meditation and vigorous debate upon some of the most relevant and troubling social themes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. . . . These poems do the work of art of the highest order—teaching, chastening, changing, astounding, and humanizing the reader.” —Judges’ Citation for the Jackson Poetry Prize

“[CITIZEN] is an especially vital book for this moment in time. . . . The realization at the end of this book sits heavily upon the heart: ‘This is how you are a citizen,’ Rankine writes. ‘Come on. Let it go. Move on.’ As Rankine’s brilliant, disabusing work, always aware of its ironies, reminds us, ‘moving on’ is not synonymous with ‘leaving behind.’”—The New Yorker

“CITIZEN is audacious in form. But what is perhaps especially striking about the book is that it has achieved something that eludes much modern poetry: urgency.”—The New York Times

“Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves. . . . CITIZEN throws a Molotov cocktail at the notion that reduction of injustice is the same as freedom.” —The New York Times Book Review

“[CITIZEN] is one of the best books I’ve ever wanted not to read. . . . Its genius . . . resides in that capacity to make so many different versions of American life proper to itself, to instruct us in the depth and variety of our participation in a narrative of race that we recount and reinstate, even when we speak as though it weren’t there.” —Slate

“With the turn of each page, [CITIZEN] burns the reader with terrible intimations of racial hatred delivered in prose stanzas that appear to have been cut with a razor. It is simple, like a bruise. Yet it is as formally complex as Four Quartets. . . . CITIZEN is a major work of American poetry that deserves to win the National Book Award. More than that: it demands to be read and discussed now, in the current moment.”—Flavorwire

“In Rankine’s world, we as audience, are both the spectacle and the representation. We are both the protagonist and the antagonist. We are both the eyewitness and the victim, the armchair and the television. . . . We must all serve as witnesses. We must all answer to the responsibility of self as citizen. And we all must defend our citizenship, as well as that of those around us.”—The Rumpus

“In prose poems and poetic essays as sharp and stinging as a surprise slap to the face, Rankine matter-of-factly chronicles ordinary encounters poisoned by racism. . . . In poems of solitary reflection, despair, and conviction, the speaker considers the eloquence of sighs and rejects the directive, “Let it go.” Accompanied by evocative images, Rankine’s arrestingly forthright, emotionally authentic, and artistically lithe inquiry induces us to question and protest every racial assault against our individual and collective humanity. » —Booklist