UConn welcomes Claudia Rankine to celebrate the 56th Wallace Stevens Poetry Program


Winner of poetry competition read their work before the speech of Claudia Rankine.
Claudia Rankine, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, is the author of five collections of poetry and uses poetry, essay, cultural criticism, and visual images, to explore what it means to be an American citizen in a “post-racial” society. (Congyang An/The Daily Campus)

Claudia Rankine, author of five collections of poetry, shared her work and the message she conveys through her poetry with a full audience in the Dodd Center Konover Auditorium at the University of Connecticut Wednesday night.

Rankine was originally born in Kingston, Jamaica and now resides in New Haven with her husband. She attended Williams College for her undergraduate degree and Columbia University for her Master of Fine Arts. A few of her numerous awards include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship and an election as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Rankine integrates the racial injustice that is still present in society into her work.

“[In an] ideal world I write the essay based on a conversation that has happened in a real world,” Rankine said. “I take the piece and I send it to the person [with whom] I had the conversation. I ask, is this the conversation we had?”

Rankine read one essay piece to the audience that focused on a moment where she went to a play based on notions of racism with her friend.

During the play, Rankine remembered, “a character asked the white people in the audience to get up from the seats and walk on the stage.” Her friend refused to do.

“I can’t stop returning to the image of her glued to her seat,” Rankine said. “Why does the image continue to infuriate and perplex me?”

Through the reading of this piece, the audience was able to be a part of the in-depth and societal questions Rankine incorporates into her writing. She is not simply telling a story of a day with her friend, but rather analyzing the interactions, feelings and questions the day raised for her.

The questions of racial injustices persisting, why they persist, the repercussions of these actions and their place in society find their way into Rankine’s work. These elements of her writing are only a few of the aspects that make her such an amazing writer. Her pieces have a purpose and they yearn to raise awareness of social issues.

Every year, UConn celebrates the Wallace Stevens Poetry Program by hosting an influential and established poet. The program was established by The Hartford in 1964 to honor modernist master poet Wallace Stevens, former vice president of The Hartford.

The program hosts a poetry competition for UConn students and students participating in Early College Experience programs in local high schools. The second-place winner for this year’s UConn project is Matthew Ryan Shelton who read “An essay in laceration” at last night’s event. First place was awarded to Kerry Carnahan, who read “Daylight is our evidence.”

Jordana Castelli is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at jordan.castelli@dailycampus.com.

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