Friday, May 18, 2018

Citizen: An American Lyric Paperback – October 7, 2014 by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)

I am reviewing this book specifically with attention to reading in my class called Citizen and Self which is about how we can live better among each other, increase participation in democratic life, and learn how to collaboratively solve problems. I read it with mostly first year college students in Kentucky. Almost all of my students are white. While some students had a hard time with the ideas - and some with the poetry, overall I thought it worked well as long as I reminded them that the book is not directed "at" them but is rather an account of someone's experience and a way to understand the life and challenges that people face in our country. I still had some students who were defensive about the book, or thought that she was being "too sensitive" but by and large the students found it interesting, helpful at seeing a different perspective and helpful in understanding the experiences of African American people in the United States. Most of them said something like, "I had no idea that this was so hard" or "that racism is still so prevalent" or that "the small things every day can be so difficult and become so big and difficult." It was certainly a challenge for them to read but I think overall was helpful. Some of the students were even able to engage with the prose/poems from a literary perspective, talking about the trajectory of the book/poems and the literary devices that she used to draw us in and help the reader see things in a different way. Teaching about race is difficult, but for college students most of whom have never had any exposure to complex ideas about race or racism, short of the basic "you shouldn't treat people of another race badly" this book was a good step in engaging them in the complex and difficult questions of race, justice, fairness, and struggle in the U.S. and also helpful in allowing them to get some practice in reading something with a non-traditional form.

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