New York Times best selling author, Jamaican poet and playwright Claudia Rankine spoke in the Mabel Brown Room last Thursday, November 19. Rankine read from her most recent book of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric. This collection of work is a reflection of what it means to be a black American citizen in the twenty-first century.

Each poem in the work is based on true events experienced by Rankine and others who have shared their stories with her, all of which highlight the active and passive racism made against black citizens in America today. The poems in this work portray multiple instances of racism, including experiences between friends, portrayals within the media, interactions between strangers and more.

While Rankine admitted that she does not actively participate in politics, she said writing is her way of sharing her beliefs on the problems and issues clearly present in America today. As Claudia Rankine stated, her beliefs stem from the fact that “human beings should not have to fight for the status of being a human being.”

Citizen: An American Lyric was one of the two books chosen for the Keene is Reading program this year. The Keene is Reading program has been going on for years and was founded on the notion that actively engaging in reading is one of the most meaningful skills students develop during their college educations. Sophomore English major Courtney Janvrin attended the presentation on Thursday night and praised Claudia Rankine and the way in which she shared her ideas with the audience.

Amy Donovan / Copy editor

Amy Donovan / Copy editor

“I really like how poised and intelligent she was. She was so calm and didn’t mind if her opinions upset you because she knew exactly how she felt and wasn’t afraid to share her opinions,” Janvrin said.

Janvrin chose to go to the presentation, and was informed about Rankin and the book by her English professor and co-director of the Keene is Reading Program, Emily Robbins Sharpe.

Through her presentation, Rankine further explained the inspirations and meanings behind a few of her chosen poems. Within her book, many images are portrayed alongside her poems. Rankine gave the audience insight into these images, along with where they originally stemmed from.

Senior and communications major Shannon Duffy, who has read Rankine’s book, said that the presentation “opened up my eyes to some of the hidden meanings of the art within the poetry.” Rankine ends her novel with J.M.W. Turner’s infamous painting The Slave Ship. The painting was inspired by the true events of 1781, when captain of the slave ship Zong threw 133 slaves overboard in order to collect insurance payments. Claudia Rankine said that she chose to end her work with this painting because it carries a powerful message on an issue that is still present in our society today.

“I think it is really important for Keene State students to attend presentations like this. I know I learned so much from Claudia Rankine tonight,” Duffy said.

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