Claudia Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1963. In 1970 she emigrated with her family to the USA. She studied at Williams College in Massachusetts and Columbia University in New York City and was a longtime instructor at Pomona College in Claremont, California.
Since her poetry debut »Nothing in Nature is Private« , she has published five further volumes of poetry and four plays, and has also appeared as co-editor of a number of anthologies. Characteristic of her work is the mixture of essayistic passages, poems, and images with which she approaches her themes. In »Don’t Let Me Be Lonely« , for example, she explores the subject of loneliness in contemporary American life, including the influence of terror and racism, depression, and the omnipresence of the media. Rankine received much acclaim for her long poem »Citizen: An American Lyric« , in which she explores the individual and collective effects of racism in US society. Whether in everyday situations such as in the supermarket or at school, whether toward celebrities such as Serena Williams or online in social media – racist thinking shows up in many places, drives people into a corner, takes away their breath. The »New York Times« stated that »Citizen« is »audacious in form. But what is perhaps especially striking about the book is that it has achieved something that eludes much modern poetry: urgency.« The book was a »New York Times« bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award.
Her most recent publication, »Just Us: An American Conversation«, was released in 2020. The focus here is the question of whiteness: What does it mean, what privileges go along with it, to what extent are white people even aware of it? In conversation with white friends and chance acquaintances – and in constant critical examination of herself –Rankine explores these questions. According to »Kirkus Reviews«, »Rankine writes with disarming intimacy and shattering honesty.«
Rankine has been a member of the Academy of American Poets since 2005 and has received numerous awards for her work, including the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and the Jackson Poetry Prize. She has been a fellow of the Guggenheim Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation. From 2016 to 2021, she held the Frederick Iseman Professorship in Poetry at Yale University. She currently teaches in the Creative Writing MFA program at New York University. She is also the co-founder of the interdisciplinary Racial Imaginary Institute, which aims to explore, contextualize, and demystify notions of race. She was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2020. She is the Fall 2022 Dirk Ippen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. Claudia Rankine lives in New York City.