MHC welcomes writer and poet Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s interdisciplinary art includes plays, poetry and essays expressed in words, images and video.

By Sasha Nyary 

Poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine will speak at Mount Holyoke College on Tuesday, Sept. 5 as the culminating event of Orientation 2017. 

Rankine is the author of “Citizen: An American Lyric,” which has been chosen as this year’s Common Read and is part of the curriculum for all incoming first-year students. Her talk will be held in Chapin Hall at 7:00 p.m. and students, faculty and staff are invited. 

“Citizen” offers meditations on race, the body, self-identity and language as based on events in Rankine’s life and in contemporary society. Interspersed among the book’s prose poems and essays are images of art and screen grabs. “Citizen” was a New York Times bestseller when it was first published in 2014 and has received numerous accolades. 

“We are incredibly honored to have Claudia Rankine join us as part of our Orientation program,” said Marcella Runell Hall, vice president for student life and dean of students. “‘Citizen’ is a timely, thoughtful and compelling read, and I can't think of a better way to start an important dialogue between and among members of our community. I hope everyone in the Mount Holyoke community will join us.” 

Rankine will read and reflect on specific segments from “Citizen” and take questions from the audience. She will also sign copies of her book, which will be available for sale by South Hadley’s Odyssey Bookshop. 

Rankine is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is also a 2016 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, known as a “genius” grant, among her many honors. 

The themes of the Common Read are an important thread over the several days of Orientation —  and throughout the year. Discussions of those themes gives the students their first in-depth intellectual exposure to Mount Holyoke and helps them unify and build community. 

The discussion will continue when Rankine returns to campus on Sept. 28 as the College’s 11th Leading Woman in the Arts to lead a master class and a student leadership seminar. This residency program was created in 2006 as a collaboration between Mount Holyoke’s Weissman Center for Leadership and InterArts Council. 

Other Leading Women in the Arts have included choreographer Trisha Brown, composer Meredith Monk, artists Carrie Mae Weems and Ann Hamilton, production designer Jeannine Oppewall and architect Billie Tsien.

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