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Citizen: An American Lyric | Study Guide

Claudia Rankine

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Claudia Rankine | Biography


Early Life and Education

Claudia Rankine was born on January 1, 1963, in Kingston, Jamaica. When she was seven years old, her parents moved the family to New York City, where Rankine would spend the rest of her childhood. She attended Catholic school through high school and continued her studies at Williams College in Massachusetts, where she studied poetry under the acclaimed American poet Louise Glück (b. 1943). After receiving a bachelor of arts degree from Williams in 1986, Rankine went on to earn a master of fine arts degree in poetry (1993) from Columbia University.


Rankine has talked about a range of influences on her work, from other poets to current events and injustices. Two of the primary poetic influences on Rankine's development as a writer are American poet and translator Robert Hass (b. 1941) and American poet, scholar, and critic Adrienne Rich (1929–2012). As a poet, Hass concerned himself with the clarity of language and issues such as human rights and environmental issues. Supported by British poet W.H. Auden (1907–73), Rich published her first book of poetry before graduation from college. She displayed a masterful understanding of traditional poetic form, but she also wrote extensively in free verse later in her career. In this later work, Rich shifted her focus from form to subject, focusing on politics and feminism. As a gay female poet, Rich understood social struggle and marginalization, and she engaged with these issues in her poetry. Rankine noted specifically that she was inspired by Rich to write poetry that deals with social issues from a personal perspective.

Writing Career

Widely recognized as a leading voice in contemporary poetry, Claudia Rankine has also proven herself a masterful playwright and scholarly critic. Rankine published her first collection of poetry in 1994, entitled Nothing in Nature is Private. She has published five poetry collections, several plays, and video essays, and has edited numerous anthologies. Her 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric is a cross-genre collection of poetry, lyric essay, and images. Like the writing in Citizen, much of Rankine's work deals with racism and other social issues. Rankine's project "The Racial Imaginary Institute" is a collaboration among various artists, spaces, and types of media that deal with the issue of race. Rankine is a recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and numerous other awards and fellowships. Additionally, Rankine has taught at a variety of universities, including Barnard, the University of Houston, Pomona, the University of Southern California, and Yale. She became chancellor for the Academy of American Poets in 2013.

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