Citizen: An American Lyric

by Claudia Rankine

Rescheduled and Mostly Virtual NEA Big Read of ‘Citizen’ Kicks Off Sept. 24

MINERAL POINT, Wis.—Together with the Mineral Point Public Library and Mineral Point School District libraries, Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts invites the public to come together during the rescheduled NEA Big Read of “Citizen: An American Lyric” beginning Sept. 24 and running through November.

Originally scheduled for April, a month of activities had been planned around Claudia Rankine’s award-winning innovative work of poetry, prose, and art that addresses the individual and collective effects of racism. But when the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the statewide shutdown this spring, the NEA Big Read was put on hold and a program of free and largely virtual events is being developed for this fall.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Shake Rag Alley was one of 78 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Big Read grant to host a community reading program in 2019-20.

The NEA Big Read showcases a diverse range of titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, aiming to inspire conversation and discovery during dynamic community reading programs designed around a single selection.

“When our NEA Big Read Committee chose ‘Citizen’ from among more than 30 books for its use of poetry and art to explore the impact words have on concepts of identity and inclusion, we could not have anticipated the nationwide protests against systemic racism touched off this summer by George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis,” said Shake Rag Alley Executive Director Sara Lomasz Flesch. “Claudia Rankine’s book remains as relevant as when it was first published in 2014 and turned a spotlight on the microaggressions that compound the trauma of racism.”

Beginning Sept. 24, the NEA Big Read of “Citizen” will feature a virtual kickoff event via Zoom that will detail the planned events and ways to access and engage with the book and its themes including:

  • a free virtual craft talk Sept. 26 on writing about race and free virtual Sept. 27 lecture about James Baldwin in Paris, both of which are components of the fourth annual Shake Rag Alley Writing Retreat running Sept. 25-27;
  • book discussions, including a seven-week virtual Shake Rag Alley Chapter Book Club beginning Oct. 1 and the Oct. 10 in-person Driftless Poets Workshop;
  • the Oct. 21 in-person Women’s Art Party focusing on a collage project reflective of artist Wangechi Mutu, whose work is featured in “Citizen;”
  • youth take-and-make art kits being developed in collaboration with the Mineral Point Elementary School Library; and
  • the 1 keynote panel, “Citizen Author and the American Story,” which is in a collaboration with Hypertext Magazine & Studio, a Chicago-based social justice nonprofit organization.

In preparation for the NEA Big Read, free copies of “Citizen” are available to program participants. Copies are available now at the Mineral Point Public Library and at Shake Rag Alley. Additional resources are available on the NEA Big Read page on the Shake Rag Alley website, including reading guides, video lectures and audio recordings of the Virtual Community Conversation series on systemic racism that Shake Rag Alley hosted in June-August. While not an official part of the NEA Big Read, Shake Rag Alley is pleased to support the Mining & Rollo Jamison Museums’ three-part lecture series on slavery in Platteville beginning Sept. 17. For more information and to register, see

Materials Produced in Conjunction with RACE – the power of Illusion

Claudia Rankine Reading from Citizen | The Loft Literary Center | Minneapolis. [14:42]

The Making of Citizen | Woodberry Poetry Room | Harvard University

Claudia Rankine Citizen | 92nd Street Y | New York City

How Art Teaches a Poet to See | International Festival of Arts & Ideas, 2015

Claudia Rankine: On Whiteness – ArtsEmerson in Boston, on March 24, 2017

The White Card – A Play by Claudia Rankine


Would you pass a US Citizenship test? Play Immigration Nation – test your knowledge of pathways to citizenship [Gameplay available in English & Spanish] The Long Ancient Road to Modern Citizenship – Ideas & Laws of Citizenship Centuries of Citizenship – A Constitutional Timeline Immigration Timeline – Library of Congress Creating Citizens – Smithsonian National Museum of American History History of Legal & Illegal Immigration to the United States – History of Migration, Citizenship, and Belonging – Reimagine Belonging National Immigration Law Center History of Voting – Scholastic (note: Wisconsin’s 1848 “most liberal voting laws” did not include Black male persons.)

Now Virtual!


Join us for an overview of the events and opportunities planned as part of our NEA Big Read of Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. Register below.

  • Read the book.
  • Use the resources on this page and suggest others.
  • Participate in any of the book discussions listed below.
  • Engage with ideas raised in the text at guest speaker talks including:
  • Listen to the audio of Virtual Community Conversations listed below
  • Attend Women’s Art Parties in October & November at Shake Rag Alley to create art reflective of the work featured in the book.

In preparation for our NEA Big Read of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, Shake Rag Alley hosted a series of virtual community conversations relevant to ideas explored within the book. These 1.5 hour Zoom meetings gave us a chance to explore issues Claudia Rankine addresses before taking a deep dive into the text this fall. Listen to audio recordings of these Zoom meetings, with accompanying videos, links, and data charts.

Race & Policing: Professor Michael Thornton

Systemic Racism & Education: Jessica Fleischmann, Ed. D

Systemic Racism & Healthcare: Dr. Sarah Fox

Local Black History: Jacki Thomas

TBD – watch this space for links to register for Zoom conversations. To join book discussions, please follow the links to contact the organizers.


Writing About Race – Eric May

Saturday, Sept. 26 | 4:30-5:30 pm

Eric May, Chicago Public Library 21st Century Author, whose book Bedrock Faith was named a Notable African-American Title by Publishers Weekly, shortlisted for the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Prize and declared a top read by: Roxane Gay; Booklist; O, The Oprah Magazine; Chicago Reader; and Chicago Tribune/Printers Row, will give a talk on writing about race.

James Baldwin in Paris – Philip Hartigan

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 5:30 pm

Philip Hartigan, Columbia College Chicago adjunct professor for its Creative Writing in Paris course, will give a multi-media talk about James Baldwin in Paris on Sunday evening.

This virtual panel discussion, “Citizen Author and the American Story,” is in collaboration with Hypertext Magazine & Studio, a Chicago-based social justice nonprofit organization.

6:30-8:30 PM
Shake Rag Alley Lind Pavilion
411 Commerce St., Mineral Point, WI

Using women’s magazines from the 1930s through the 1970s, we will generate work reflective of collagist Wangechi Mutu, featured in Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

6:30-8:30 PM
Shake Rag Alley Lind Pavilion
411 Commerce St., Mineral Point, WI

Project TBD.

Plans are underway for in-school projects using related texts at Mineral Point Public Schools.

Claudia Rankine has authored five poetry collections including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely; two plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue, numerous video collaborations, and is the editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind. For her book Citizen, Rankine won both the PEN Open Book Award and the PEN Literary Award, the NAACP Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. (Citizen was the first book ever to be named a finalist in both the poetry and criticism categories); and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Citizen also holds the distinction of being the only poetry book to be a New York Times bestseller in the nonfiction category. Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in California and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.

In 2016, Claudia Rankine was named a MacArthur Fellow. Using the funding associated with this prize she launched The Racial Imaginary Institute an interdisciplinary cultural laboratory exploring the invented concept of race “that nevertheless operates with extraordinary force in our daily lives, limiting our movements and imaginations.”

discussion resources specific to wisconsin

Racial Dot Map

  • Does the representation of racial groups on this map match your lived experience?
  • Where would you need to go to find the nearest concentration of persons from another race?
  • Is the pattern of segregation in Wisconsin replicated nationally?
  • How did this concentration by race occur? Was it always this way?

Racial Integration Ranking

  • Where does Wisconsin rank?
  • Is this what you expected based on your lived experience?
  • How does Wisconsin compare to other US places you may have lived?
  • Do these findings suggest a Wisconsin imaginary?
  • What impact does this have on our communities and who are the citizens of those communities?

Black Suffrage in Early Wisconsin

African American History in Wisconsin

Black Citizenship in the United States

The History of White People

Thank you to these partners for supporting the Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts NEA Big Read grant proposal and working to bring this opportunity to our beloved community.