Review: Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Citizen: An American Lyric won National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (2014) and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry. The book combines prose, verse, and images, describing Rankine’s experience of racism in America. There are seven parts.

Part I begins with the narrator’s memory of a girl in her class asking her to let her copy her exam answers. Like the rest of the book, it is told in the second person.

You are twelve attending Sts. Philip and James school on White Plains Road and the girl sitting behind the seat asks you to lean to the right during exams so she can copy what you have written […] You never really speak except for the time she makes her request and later when she tells you you smell good and have features more like a white person. You assume she thinks she is thanking you for letting her cheat and feels better for cheating from an almost white person.

The book is full of incidents like this, cataloging the daily experiences of white racism, both overt and subtle, that Rankine and other black people face in the United States.

Part II is Rankine’s meditation on black tennis star Serena Williams and racist attacks Williams has experienced in her career. The next few sections (parts III-V) are more in the style of Part I, focusing on her personal experiences of racism.

Someone in the audience asks the man promoting his new book on humor what makes something funny. His answer is what you expect — context. After a pause he adds that if someone said something, like about someone, and you were with your friends you would probably laugh, but if they said it out in public where black people could hear what was said, you might not, probably would not. Only then do you realize you are among “the others out in public,” and not “among friends.”

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Published by Beth @ Beth's Bookish Thoughts

This blog is for my thoughts on reading. A couple of my friends on GoodReads have blogs, so eventually I decided to start one myself. I hope to get involved in the book blogging community and become a better reader and writer! I am not accepting copies of new books for review, but I would be interested in new editions or new translations of classic authors. Find me on Upwork (as an editor) in the profile link. From September 2018 to October 2020 I blogged at Blogger.

2 thoughts on “Review: Citizen: An American Lyric

  1. Combining prose and poetry sounds interesting. Are any in more traditional poem form, or all paragraphs like these? I'm going to go look this one up. I'm reading the NBCC Award winners for fiction, but haven't tried the poetry winners yet.


  2. Some parts of it are in verse, especially toward the end.I have not heard of most of the NBCC winners for fiction before (except… 2666, I think?) I am aiming to read 10 award winning books this year but I am not focusing on one award.


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