Esteemed poet Claudia Rankine to visit campus

By Farah Bassyouni Apr 1, 2022

Students have been abuzz ahead of poet Claudia Rankine’s arrival to campus, which will be happen Thursday, April 7.  Rankine will host a discussion at 4 p.m. in Hansen Student Center. The event will include a Q&A session with the poet.Rankine’s discussion will be followed by a reading of recent work at Normal Theater in Uptown Normal at 7 p.m.

A reception at Medici will take place afterwards. The events are free and open to the public. 

Rankine is a New York Times best-selling author and is also the co-founder of the Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII). 

Her most famous works include Just Us: An American Conversation, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely and Citizen: An American Lyric. 

She also co-edited several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. 

Among her numerous awards, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize. 

“I hope students are simultaneously challenged and empowered,” professor Michael Theune said. 

Rankine explores many theme across her works. Race and economics are discussed in poetry, prose and visual art. 

Rankine’s work includes visual art objects, news footage and direct quotes from other poets, writers and philosophers.

“I’m always amazed by how Rankine’s work melds the rhetorical and the Orphic,” Theune said. “It is potent alchemy.”

The “Orphic” gets its name from Orpheus, a mythical tale  about a poet who sang his way into the underworld. 

Orphic works are often aligned with myth or things that are out of the ordinary.

“I hope creative writers will find in Claudia Rankine one very strong model for how to be an author today,” Theune said.  

Professor of English Joanne Diaz introduced her students to Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric in her creative writing workshops. 

Diaz was also used Citizen in her “Crime and Punishment” class to provide her students with the opportunity to admire Rankine’s work in class. 

“I love how Rankine’s mind is like a tidal wave, drawing in all of the art objects and historical phenomena that interest and provoke her,” Diaz said. 

Diaz’s love for Rankine’s work is also evident in the classes she taught Citizen. 

“I’ve marveled at how much [Citizen] teaches my students about voice, and how to sustain the intensity of one’s voice across an entire project,” Diaz said. 

Diaz also said that her students were moved by the ways Citizen exposes microaggressions and biases in our culture. 

“Many of the poems in Citizen speak to a “you,” which immediately involves and implicates the reader in the intense drama of each situation,” Diaz said. 

Some students prepared for Rankine’s time on campus by attending a reading group sponsored by IWU’s English department. 

One of Diaz’s students Jessica Buttell loves Rankine’s work because of how how she draws attention to social injustices. 

Buttell was Diaz’s student in one of her creative writing workshops, “Poetics of Engagement” as well as English Major Emile Ottinger. 

“[Rankine’s] work taught me about dissociation, as a state of devastation where the brain begs its person not to be real at a time like this, when facing institutional cycles of trauma, ” Ottinger said. 

Rankine’s work is widely believed to have made a difference in the field of humanities for years to come. 

“In recent years, humanities have been under attack for not being worthwhile or productive,” political science major Rachel Williams said. 

“Yet, work as inspiring and motivating as Rankine’s is the most worthwhile and productive,” Williams said. 

Both Williams and Ottinger are  part of the editorial team of IWU’s literary journal Tributaries who co-sponsored the event. 

Rankine’s visit is presented by the William Morgan Distinguished Poet Series. 

llinois State University Emeritus Professor William Morgan also co-sponsored the visit, as well as several departments and groups at both IWU and ISU. 

IWU introduced the slogan “Do well, do good” recently as  motivation for involvement on campus.  Williams also believes that the slogan can be applied to Rankine. 

“[Rankine’s] voice sheds light on the truth of America and motivates others to become changemakers,” Williams said. “Claudia Rankine is the epitome of do well, do good,” Williams said. 

“As a writer and future teacher of social justice, Rankine inspires me to use my own voice to shed light on issues in our world today.” Buttell said.


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