Citizen: An American Lyric

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Citizen: An American Lyric
The cover of the American softback first edition
AuthorClaudia Rankine
CountryUnited States
Publication date
October 7, 2014
Pages166 (softcover)
ISBN978-1-555-97690-3 (US softcover)
ISBN 978-0-141-98177-2 (UK softcover)

Citizen: An American Lyric is a 2014 book-length poem[1] and a series of lyric essays by American poet Claudia Rankine. Citizen stretches the conventions of traditional lyric poetry by interweaving several forms of text and media into a collective portrait of racial relations in the United States.[2] The book ranked as a New York Times Bestseller in 2015 and won several awards, including the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry,[3] the 2015 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry,[4] and the 2015 Forward Prize for Poetry Best Collection.[5]

In her critique of racism and visibility, Rankine details the quotidian microaggressions African-Americans face, discusses controversial incidents such as backlashes against tennis player Serena Williams, and inquires about the ramifications of the shootings of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson. She intersperses her writing with images of various paintings, drawings, sculptures, and other digital media to "render visible the black experience".[6]


The book consists of seven chapters interspersed with images and artworks. The first chapter details microaggressions Rankine and her friends have experienced. The second chapter discusses the YouTube character Hennessy Youngman (created by Jayson Musson) and racial incidents in the life of Serena Williams. The third chapter features more microaggressions and the nature of racist language. In the fourth chapter Rankine writes of the transition of sighs into aches, the nature of language, memory, and watching tennis matches in silence. Chapter five is a complex poem on self-identity interspersed with more microaggressions. Chapter six is a series of scripts for "situation videos" created in collaboration with John Lucas on Hurricane Katrina, the shootings of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson, the Jena Six, the 2011 England riots in the wake of the death of Mark Duggan, stop-and-frisk, Zinedine Zidane's headbutt of Marco Materazzi in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Final, and the verbal error during Barack Obama's first inauguration as President of the United States. The sixth chapter ends with "Making Room", a script for a "public fiction" about finding a seat on the subway, and a list of African-American men and women involved in recent police shooting incidents that concludes with the phrase "because white men can't police their imagination black men are dying". The seventh chapter is a complex meditation on race, the body, language and various incidents in the life of the author. The book is interspersed with images of various paintings, drawings, sculptures and screen grabs.


Citizen was a New York Times best seller.[7]

The book received rave reviews from The Adroit Journal,[8] Bookforum,[9] The Boston Review,[10] Brevity,[11] The Guardian,[12] The Independent,[13]The New York Review of Books,[14] The New York Times,[15]The New York Times Book Review,[16] The New Yorker,[17] Publishers Weekly,[18] The Seattle Review of Books,[19] and Slate.[20]

Dan Chiasson, in the New Yorker, wrote that "[Citizen] is an especially vital book for this moment in time. ...The realization at the end of this book sits heavily upon the heart: 'This is how you are a citizen,' Rankine writes. 'Come on. Let it go. Move on.' As Rankine's brilliant, disabusing work, always aware of its ironies, reminds us, 'moving on' is not synonymous with 'leaving behind.'"[17]

Booklist,[21] Kirkus,[22] The Oxonian Review,[23] Shelf Awareness,[24] and The Washington Post[25] provided positive reviews, as well.

Kirkus called Citizen "[f]requently powerful, occasionally opaque."[22] In The Washington Post, Michael Lindgren wrote, "Part protest lyric, part art book, Citizen is a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of black life in America."[25]

The book was ranked the greatest literary work of the 2010s by Literary Hub contributors.[26]

In a reflection ahead of its tenth anniversary, writer Lisa Teasley wrote: "Yet Citizen: An American Lyric continues to be deeply, unsettlingly relevant. It captures the unequal recognition of belonging that Black citizens in white America receive. By using second person, Rankine brings us into the feelings of invisibility and hypervisibility produced by these situations."[27]

Awards and honors[edit]

Year Award/Honor Result Ref.
2014 California Book Awards for Poetry Finalist [28]
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry Winner [29]
National Book Award for Poetry Finalist [30]
National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry Winner [3][31]
National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism Finalist [3]
2015 Forward Prizes for Poetry Best Collection Winner [5][32]
Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry Winner [33][34]
PEN Open Book Award Winner [35][36]
Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award for Poetry Winner [37][38]
2017 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry Winner [39]


  1. ^ Chiasson, Dan. "Color Codes". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2020-03-09.
  2. ^ Love, Heather (2016-09-01). "Small Change: Realism, Immanence, and the Politics of the Micro". Modern Language Quarterly. 77 (3): 419–445. doi:10.1215/00267929-3570678. ISSN 0026-7929.
  3. ^ a b c "National Book Critics Circle Announces Finalists for Publishing Year 2014". National Book Critics Circle. January 19, 2015. Archived from the original on January 22, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  4. ^ "Citizen: An American Lyric". NEA. 2017-05-31. Retrieved 2020-03-09.
  5. ^ a b Brown, Mark (28 September 2015). "Claudia Rankine's Citizen wins Forward poetry prize". the Guardian.
  6. ^ Adams, Bella (2017-04-03). "Black Lives/White Backgrounds: Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric and Critical Race Theory" (PDF). Comparative American Studies. 15 (1–2): 61. doi:10.1080/14775700.2017.1406734. ISSN 1477-5700. S2CID 149293816.
  7. ^ "Paperback Nonfiction Books - Best Sellers - Books - Jan. 18, 2015 - The New York Times". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  8. ^ O'Rourke, Kenna (2018-10-23). "On Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine (Reviewed by Kenna O'Rourke)". The Adroit Journal. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  9. ^ Sehgal, Parul (January 2015). "Sister Outsider". Book Forum. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  10. ^ Fischer, BK. "Chokehold". Boston Review. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  11. ^ Morse, Sandell (2016-01-18). "A Review of Claudia Rankine's Citizen, An American Lyric". Brevity. Retrieved 2022-01-27.
  12. ^ Kellaway, Kate (2015-08-30). "Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine review – the ugly truth of racism". the Guardian. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  13. ^ O'Brien, Sean (2015-07-16). "Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, book review: Grimly". The Independent. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  14. ^ Laird, Nick (2015-04-25). "'A New Way of Writing About Race'". The New York Review of Books. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  15. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (2014-11-28). "A Poetry Personal and Political". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  16. ^ Bass, Holly (2014-12-24). "July's Book Club Pick: Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  17. ^ a b Chiasson, Dan (2014-10-20). "Color Codes". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  18. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $20 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55597-690-3". Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  19. ^ Constant, Paul (2017-01-05). "A room full of citizens, by Paul Constant". The Seattle Review of Books. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  20. ^ Farmer, Jonathan (2014-10-09). "The Genius Poet Whose New Book Makes Race Ferociously Real". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  21. ^ Seaman, Donna (2015-10-14). "Citizen". Booklist. Retrieved 2022-01-27.
  22. ^ a b "Citizen". Kirkus Reviews. 2014-07-30. Retrieved 2022-01-27.
  23. ^ Foley, Hugh (2015-10-13). "'The Full Force of Your American Positioning'". The Oxonian Review. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  24. ^ Wheeler, Dave (2015-03-03). "From My Shelf". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  25. ^ a b Michael Lindgren (10 March 2015). "Color Codes". The Washington Post. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Best of the Decade: What Books Will We Still Be Reading in 10 Years?". Literary Hub. 2019-09-24. Retrieved 2020-02-18.
  27. ^ Teasley, Lisa (28 March 2023). "Introducing Claudia Rankine's 'Citizen'". Alta. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  28. ^ "84th Annual California Book Awards Winners". Commonwealth Club. Retrieved 2022-01-27.
  29. ^ "Winners of the '46th NAACP Image Awards' | Press Room". NAACP. 2016-06-22. Archived from the original on 2016-06-22. Retrieved 2022-01-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  30. ^ "National Book Awards 2014". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  31. ^ Alexandra Alter (March 12, 2015). "'Lila' Honored as Top Fiction by National Book Critics Circle". The New York Times. Retrieved March 12, 2015.
  32. ^ Cheever, Susan (2015-09-29). "Awards: Thurber Winner; Forward for Best Poetry Collection". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  33. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (2015-04-18). "The winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are ..." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  34. ^ Morrison, Toni (2015-04-20). "Awards: L.A. Times; Minnesota Book". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  35. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (2015-09-10). "Claudia Rankine and Meghan Daum lead 2015 PEN Literary Awards". Los Angeles Times.
  36. ^ "Announcing the 2015 PEN Literary Award Winners". PEN America. 2015-05-08. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  37. ^ Andrew, Sally (2015-10-27). "Awards: Hurston/Wright Legacy; CODE Burt; Readings". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  38. ^ Brown, DeNeen L. (2015-10-23). "Laila Lalami, Elizabeth Nunez, Claudia Rankine win 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  39. ^ Satyal, Rakesh (2017-03-31). "Awards: Bobbitt Poetry Winners; Lindquist & Vennum Finalists". Shelf Awareness. Retrieved 2022-01-28.