An internationally known poet, essayist and playwright whose most recent volume of poetry was a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry will speak at Cal Poly Pomona on Monday, April 13.
Claudia Rankine, author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” will read and discuss excerpts from her book as part of the English and foreign language department’s Lingua Franca Speakers Series.
The event, from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Bronco Student Center’s Ursa Minor, is a collaboration between the English and foreign language department, ethnic and women’s studies, the African American Student Center and the Ahimsa Center. A book signing will follow the lecture from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Rankine’s “Citizen” delves into blatant and subtle forms of racism, touching on topics ranging from stereotypes about black women to Hurricane Katrina to the Trayvon Martin shooting case.
Professor Olga Griswold, an acquaintance of Rankine’s, says she was amazed when she found out that the local author was a finalist for the National Book Award.
“I was completely awestruck,” she says. “It is not that I was surprised. It’s the National Book Award. That’s huge.”
The Jamaican-born Rankine won the National Books Critics Circle Award in Poetry and was also a finalist for the organization’s literary criticism prize, the first time a book was nominated in two categories.
Griswold says that because Rankine is an English professor at nearby Pomona College, she thought it would be beneficial to Cal Poly Pomona students to have her speak on campus.
“I read the book and it hit me in the gut,” says Griswold, whose specialty is linguistics. “It’s a book about racism, but not the racism you think of during the civil rights movement. It’s the hidden biases we have. It makes you stop and think, and consciously make a choice to be a better person.”
Professor Marta Albalá Pelegrín, who coordinating the event, said she found “Citizen” fascinating and timely in the wake of another police shooting and other issues about race that have been brought to the forefront.
“Her approach is very modern,” Albalá Pelegrín says. “She is talking about what is happening now, the violence of civilization and the unstable condition of what we call civility.”
Professor Aaron DeRosa is teaching Rankine’s “Citizen” for the first time this quarter. His students in English 205, a class on black literature in the U.S. dubbed “A Literary History of Ferguson, Missouri,” and English 456, a 20th-century American literature class titled “Bare Life and the Militarization of the United States,” are reading the book, which combines prose, poems, images and essays.
DeRosa says that he likes that the book raises questions instead of making statements, which allows students to probe and discuss issues.
“It’s an exploration rather than an explanation,” he says. “It’s an inviting text. It asks you to think rather than shaming you for not knowing.”
“Citizen: An American Lyric” is available at the Bronco Bookstore. The event is open to the campus community.