Celebrated poet, playwright and essayist Claudia Rankine will be leaving her post as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale at the end of the 2020-21 academic year to become a professor at New York University.
The announcement — first made public by a press release from NYU’s creative writing program — comes just a few weeks after the publication of her newest book, “Just Us: An American Conversation,” a collection of poems and essays on race-related conversations she has had with friends and strangers.
“I find myself involved more and more in theater in New York,” Rankine said. “So the decision to take the NYU position will allow me to teach and attend rehearsals and write in a more fluid way.”
Rankine arrived in New Haven in 2016 after previously holding positions at Barnard College, Pomona College and the University of Southern California. During her first year, she was named the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry, the first endowed professorship of poetry at Yale. She is the second faculty member to hold the post, following the poet Elizabeth Alexander, who was appointed to the position in 2015 and held the position until 2016.
Richard Deming, the creative writing program’s director, explained that the professorship “signals the ways that Yale has long had a belief that poetry and the arts are crucial and sustaining aspects of the college’s sense of education.”
“Claudia’s is as dynamic a mind as one will ever encounter, and that is evident from the first moment one meets her,” Deming wrote in an email to the News. “Poetry is a social art and no matter what, I believe that she is probing the consequences and possibilities of language. Her careful attention to her teaching and her investment in widening our notions of community — She leaps across genre boundaries and departmental divisions and engages the world beyond the academy — is evidence of a deeply ethical sensibility and as well as generosity of spirit.”
At Yale, Rankine frequently teaches sections of “Advanced Poetry Writing,” and, in recent years, has also co-taught a class titled “Contemporary Black American Women Poets Experiments in the Lyric” with Maryam Ivette Parhizkar, a doctoral candidate in American studies and African American studies.
Branson Rideaux ’20, who took the class before graduating, recalls Rankine inviting her students to her house for a poetry reading with poet LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs.
“Professor Rankine was incredibly welcoming and I remember being absolutely obsessed with her adorable dog and all of the amazing artwork around her house,” Rideaux wrote in an email to the News. “Professor Rankine spoke to each of us individually, making sure we felt comfortable, that we had grabbed a slice of Pepe’s, and that we had a good seat for the reading.”
Rideaux added how lucky he, and Yale as a whole, are to have had Rankine for the past four years. He described her as an amazing professor, as well as an “incredible poet and Black woman.”
Her 2014 book-length poem, “Citizen: An American Lyric,” portrayed through text and image a portrait of racism and Blackness in America, earning her scores of book awards and a top spot in the New York Times list of bestsellers. With grant money funded from her 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant, Rankine also created the Racial Imaginary Institute, a New York-based “cultural laboratory” of social activists, writers and artists exploring the subject of race.
“When you have a community of volunteers like at the Racial Imaginary Institute, that community becomes the remuneration, more than salaries and capitalistic frameworks,” Rankine said. “And somebody needs to be the organizational energy of it. I’m hoping that being in New York means that we can move forward on a number of projects.”
Despite the move to New York, Rankine describes her four-and-a-half years at Yale as “really enriching.”
The creative writing program at Yale formally began in 2013.
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