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'Citizen: An American Lyric' named 2017-2018 KU Common Book

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

LAWRENCE — A work detailing the prevalence and toll of racial microaggressions will be the 2017-2018 KU Common Book. “Citizen: An American Lyric,” by Claudia Rankine, a current MacArthur Fellow, relates encounters between individuals that reveal the racial stereotypes and tensions that permeate society and the wounds that result. 

Rankine’s award-winning, multimedia book is distinctly different from previous KU Common Books. “Citizen” offers strong echoes of social media by combining poetry and lyric prose with works of art and news images. The book amplifies critical themes defined by the 2016-2017 KU Common Book, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me.” 

“The notions of citizenship and identity loom at the forefront of ongoing debates,” said Cécile Accilien, associate professor of African and African-American studies and a member of the KU Common Book selection committee. “Rankine skillfully and carefully weaves a tapestry of powerful images moving 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.” 

Rankine uses the second-person point of view to engage her audience in many of the episodes, leading readers to reflect on their own responses and assumptions and to foster understanding.

“By reading ‘Citizen,’ new students will become part of important conversations at KU about how we decrease and eliminate microaggressions and help one another to thrive,” said Sarah Crawford-Parker, assistant vice provost for the first-year experience. “Also, ‘Citizen’ is an excellent example of how literature and art can be a vehicle for tackling difficult issues.”

The book relies on text and works of art by contemporary artists such as Carrie Mae Weems and David Hammons to communicate to the reader. “Citizen” presents the experiences of everyday individuals as well as public figures from sports and the media, combining the unfamiliar with the familiar, prompting further exploration and consideration.

The book has received numerous awards, including the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry and the PEN Open Book Award. It was a finalist for both the 2014 National Book Award in Poetry and the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.

New students will receive a copy of “Citizen” at orientation and participate in discussion groups Aug. 20. Rankine will deliver her KU Common Book address at 7 p.m. Sept. 7 in the Lied Center.  KU Common Book events are free and open to the public.

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