Claudia Rankine Citation - Commencement 2018

May 20, 2018


Poet, essayist, playwright, and educator, you make visible the unacknowledged reality of accepted conditions and constructions. As the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University, you focus on the many ways we are influenced by people’s understanding and misunderstanding of race, power, and privilege, and you seek to shine light onto truths that we all too often struggle to grasp and articulate.

You are the recipient of many outstanding awards and accolades, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. When you were awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant in 2016, the foundation hailed you for “illuminating the emotional and psychic tensions that mark the experiences of many living in 21st-century America.”

Currently, you are using the Fellowship to help establish the Racial Imaginary Institute in Manhattan, a cultural laboratory in which the racial imaginaries of our time and place are engaged, read, countered, contextualized, and demystified.

You have tackled these difficult issues in five acclaimed collections of poetry. Of those collections, your book-length poem about race and the imagination, Citizen: An American Lyric, holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to become a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category.

In addition to popular acclaim, Citizen: An American Lyric won both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN Literary Award, as well as the NAACP Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

Because your words are unflinching as they seek to challenge, to express, to disrupt, and to acknowledge constructions of race and identity, we are proud to bestow upon you, Claudia Rankine, honoris causa, the degree of Doctor of Literature.