Poet, Essayist Claudia Rankine to Address Struggle With Race

photo of writer Claudia Rankine
More than 20 departments and centers have come together to present a virtual talk by acclaimed writer Claudia Rankine.

Claudia Rankine, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient, National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist, will read from and discuss her new book, Just Us: An American Conversation, on Wednesday, Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. Register here.

just us book coverPublished in September, Just Us combines poetry, essays, photographs, art, scholarship, analysis, invective and argument into a passionate and persuasive case about the complex mechanics of race in this country.

“Claudia’s new book, like much of her work, concentrates on the issue of ‘whiteness’ and race in the U.S. and globally,” said Allison Coudert, a professor in the Department of Religious Studies, who has known Rankine since the 1980s when Rankine was Coudert’s daughter’s college roommate.

“Since this has become such a major issue over the past years and affects all aspects of daily life, activity and thought, I thought we would find a great deal of support and interest, which we have.”

Coudert is an organizer with English professor Katie Peterson, director of the Creative Writing Program; and the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.

Rankine’s visit is co-sponsored by 23 UC Davis departments, programs, centers and other entities. Chancellor Gary S. May will give welcome remarks. 

“We are thrilled to collaborate with partners from across the university to host this special appearance by Claudia Rankine,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Manetti Shrem Museum. “Coming the day after the U.S. presidential election, this virtual event promises to bring us into an important conversation — and invite our community into that conversation, regardless of location.”

‘Magnum opus’

Rankine, a professor of poetry in the Yale University departments of English and African American Studies, gave a lecture at UC Davis in 2016 in conjunction with her book-length poem Citizen: An American Lyric. It received a Los Angeles Times Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, NAACP Image Award in poetry, PEN Open Book Award and PEN American Center USA Literary Award, and was a finalist for a National Book Award.

Citizen might be the most influential book of our times,” Peterson said. “Not only is it beloved of writers, it’s been taught widely in high schools and colleges.”

Now comes Just Us, already being hailed as a must-read and Rankine’s “magnum opus” in a review on the arts website 4Columns 

“The book describes the ways that racism pervades personal lives and social reality, juxtaposing intimate scenes with images from popular culture and stories straight from the news,” said Peterson. “There will be no other book this year that so eloquently holds us to account, or asks so much of us — or that brings us as close to reality and our own humanity.” 

According to Kirkus Reviews, “Just as she did so effectively in Citizen, [Rankine] combines poetry, essay, visuals, scholarship, analysis, invective and argument into a passionate and persuasive case about many of the complex mechanics of race in this country — especially how white people barely acknowledge it (particularly in conversation with other white people) while for Black people, it affects everything.”

Just Us will be included in the curriculum for all UC Davis introductory creative writing courses in fiction, nonfiction and poetry during the 2020-21 academic year, a total enrollment of about 250 students from all disciplines. Ahead of her public lecture, Rankine will hold a reading of Just Us for those students.

— Jeffrey Day, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science