Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric recounts mounting racial aggression in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. 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. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named ‘post-race’ society.

A defining text for our time, Citizen was the winner of the 2015 Forward Prize for Best Collection, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (it was also a finalist in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award's history to be a double nominee), the NAACP Image Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the LA Times Book Award for poetry. Citizen was nominated for the Hurston/Wright 2015 Legacy Award, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, and was selected as an NPR Best Book of 2014. Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

(Material provided by Graywolf Press & Blue Flower Arts)

Claudia Rankine

Recipient of the 2016 MacArthur Fellowship, Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue; and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. She also co-produces a video series, “The Situation,” alongside John Lucas, and is the founder of the Open Letter Project: Race and the Creative Imagination. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.  She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

We are pleased to announce that Claudia Rankine will be on campus to deliver the 2017-2018 KU Common Book talk on Thursday, September 7 at 7:00 pm in the Lied Center.

(Material provided by Blue Flower Arts)

Notes from the Selection Committee

A selection committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff read and review books nominated by the KU community and forward recommendations to the Chancellor.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine could not be a more relevant selection for the 2017-18 KU Common Book.  As our country continues to grapple with a myriad of issues including that of social in/justice, im/migration and belonging, the notions of citizenship and identity loom at the forefront of ongoing debates. Rankine skillfully and carefully weaves a tapestry of powerful images through various genres ranging from poetry to Youtube videos to expose the violence that many people of color around the globe face on a daily basis. Citizen also presents a number of situational videos composed of quotes from news stories about the Hurricane Katrina crisis in 2005, the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013, sports news about the U.S. Open and the World Cup as well as images by various artists such as Kate Clark, Toyin Odutola, John Lucas and Wangechi Mutu.  Rankine unapologetically challenges the United States’ treatment of some of its citizens and defines who is truly accepted as an American today.

Following the 2016 common book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Citizen powerfully continues the challenging yet important dialogues about what it means to live in a racialized body and a police state. Citizen provides a space for instructors and students from various disciplines to interrogate the intersectionality of identities and privileges in terms of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, environment and ability, among others. Citizen will appeal to a wide audience and will push us to continue these critical conversations. This work reminds us of the fact that we continuously live in a historical present and that issues of racism, classism, sexism and other isms are still prevalent today. Reading Citizen brings to mind a quote by author James Baldwin who states: “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” Through Citizen we find ourselves occupying a historical moment that intertwines the past, present and future.  As the University of Kansas actively strives to be an institution that is inclusive, diverse and equitable, Citizen is the perfect book to further facilitate the ongoing courageous dialogues that we need.

Requesting a Review Copy

We have a limited number of copies available for those interested in using Citizen: An American Lyric in their classrooms. Due to high demand, we are only able to provide one book per instructor. To request a review copy, please email with the following information:

  • Name of instructor of record
  • Department
  • Course name
  • Course number
  • How do you anticipate using the book in your course?

Departments interested in ordering copies of Citizen: An American Lyric may do so at a discounted rate through the KU Bookstore. For more information, please contact:


Mike Engel, Book Buyer, KU Bookstore