‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ chosen as First Year Reading Program selection

National Book Award finalist marries poetry, prose and photography

National Book Award finalist “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine has been chosen as the 2015 First Year Reading Program selection for the incoming students of Washington University in St. Louis.

Through prose, poetry, art and photography, “Citizen” reflects on the many ways — some unconscious, some undeniable — that racism pervades our society.

Jill Stratton, PhD, associate dean of undergraduate residential learning, calls “Citizen” the right book at the right time.

“The content is so compelling and so relevant given all that we have experienced here in St. Louis,” Stratton said. “Our hope is that the book sparks deep reflection, and provokes and stimulates thoughtful discussion and dialogue.”

“Citizen” was published in 2014 and widely applauded by critics. The New Yorker wrote that the book “explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected” and The Washington Post called it “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America.”

Rebecca Wanzo, PhD, associate professor of women, gender and sexuality studies in Arts & Sciences and associate director of the Center for the Humanities, recommended “Citizen” to the First Year Reading Program selection committee. She said the book elegantly addresses questions of identity and power — issues that Ferguson thrust into our consciousness today, but have forever vexed American society.

“ ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ is a book about the ways in which these issues permeate everyday life, causing injury and preventing some people from being full citizens,” Wanzo said. “Rankine writes that, ‘just getting along shouldn’t be an ambition,’ but that dismantling the obstacles that allow for the formation of bonds across difference requires dedication and drive.

“Rankine’s accessible, interesting volume inspires us to commit to that project, and imagine a world better than the one we have inherited,” Wanzo said.

All first-year students will participate in a discussion about “Citizen” during orientation this fall. The book also will be incorporated in a new pilot freshman one-credit course focused on identity and diversity.

Rankine is scheduled to speak at the Assembly Series this September and will be a visiting Hurst Professor for two weeks this fall.