A sense of panic and fear and panic came over my body when I looked at the syllabus of my poetry class and saw “March 19th, 8 pm, Claudia Rankine Reading, TUCC, REQUIRED.” Where, and what, is TUCC? How do I get there from Temple’s main campus? Who is this Claudia Rankine anyway?
Endless questions flooded in to my mind and I was dreading the inescapable experience. We began to read Rankine’s book Citizen during the week of the event, part of which she was to recite at the poetry reading. I was hooked from the first sentence. Citizen is both a historical essay and a personal account of racism in America. It’s a book that absolutely NEEDED to be written because it speaks of how racism is still a problem, while many today will beg to differ. It is especially relevant with the issues of police brutality and racial violence that have begun to surface over the past few years.
The evening of the event, I took a train to Suburban Station and walked to Temple’s Center City campus. It was the first time I ventured by myself into that part of the city. It was a bit nerve-wracking, but my focus was on seeing this amazing poet’s reading. Upon my arrival, I spent an hour and a half finishing what I had left of Citizen and awkwardly sitting outside the room. Mrs. Rankine arrived on the scene and said, “Hi!” to me before she entered the room and began her reading!
By the end of the event, I was blown away by Rankine’s phenomenal reading. I loved hearing about the origin her stories and how she chose the pictures included in her novel. I’m so glad I finished reading the novel just before the live reading because she actually read the parts of it that I hadn’t finished and saved me the time I would have spent reading on my way to school the next day. It was nice to know exactly what parts of the book she was referencing and to hear her read them aloud the way she intended them to be read. What stood out to me the most was when she said that this novel was a collection of stories from her and those around her, which I felt was a unique perspective of the poetry. Just hearing the novel in her voice was slightly different than what I had envisioned in my head. She was calm, while I read the words on the page as being angry or upset about the racism that still plagues this nation.
I had the immense honor of meeting the wonderful Mrs. Rankine and having her sign my copy of Citizen. Originally, I feared that I might look unintelligent in front of her, and this held me back. However, my apprehension faded when I noticed others getting their copies signed and when my friend wanted his signed too, I thought, “Why not?” I noticed that the others ahead of us in line had particular passages they wanted to discuss with her, but I had nothing to say. I just loved the whole book! When it was my turn, I told her that I thought her novel was so good and that I loved it. She was grateful and addressed the signature to me personally, as she did for the others. It was so cool that she was humble enough to ask each person’s name when signing their books to have it be a personal experience.
Overall, this was an awesome reading and experience. It got me out of my comfort zone and allowed to see a famous, award-winning poet read her incredible work. I learned to navigate through Philadelphia on my own, as well as the oftentimes complicated process that goes into writing a book and choosing images. It allowed me to see that I am capable of being independent and willing to do more things on my own.