Claudia Rankine ('93) Wins National Book Critics Circle Award

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Poet Claudia Rankine ('93) has won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Poetry Award for her book Citizen, which explores racism and microagression in contemporary American society. The award, which is given early in one year for a piece of work published the previous year, was announced March 12 at a ceremony at The New School.

"What Claudia Rankine’s book Citizen does, miraculously, is break racism’s intractability down into human-sized installations, accounts of relationships, and examples of speech," Tess Taylor and Walton Muyumba wrote in February for an appreciation of the book for Critical Mass, the blog of the NBCC board of directors. "These pieces, which can equally be read as prose poems or as micro essays, map the uneasiness and charged space of living race now."

Citizen made history by becoming the first book ever to be nominated for an NBCC award in two categories. In addition to poetry, it was a finalist in criticism.

"I think that Citizen deserves both of its nominations on the basis of an exceedingly rare quality, one that places it at the height of American poetry: it embodies the ideal of poetry as criticism of life," Jonathon Sturgeon wrote in a piece for Flavorwire shortly after the nominations were announced. ". . . When Rankine’s speaker thinks through the gap between the 'historical self' and the 'self self,' for example, she is enacting a poetic criticism of life. When the book charts the accumulation of psychic and physical marks against black bodies, too, it is showing the gap between how things are — in a world where the anger of young black citizens is instrumentalized against them — and how the world is perceived or imagined."

The NBCC award is the latest in a series of recent honors for Rankine. Among them, she won last year's Jackson Poetry Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. She has recently been nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Award, along with professor Donald Antrim and alumnus Jesse Ball ('04). She also has been longlisted for the 2015 PEN Open Book Award.
Rankine visited Columbia and Barnard last month; a video of her reading and discussion of justice poetry with the poets Dawn Lundy Martin and Messiah is now available online.
Two other NBCC winners will speak at Columbia later this month. Marilynne Robinson, winner of the NBCC Fiction Award for her novel Lila, and Roz Chast, winner of the NBCC Autobiography Award for her graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, both will participate in the Stalking the Essay Conference March 28 and 29.

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