Stand up, Citizen

For the first time in the history of the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Awards, one title, “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine, has been nominated in two categories: Poetry and Criticism. The judges, composed of working critics and book review editors, nominated 30 finalists spanning six categories in autobiography, biography, criticism, fiction, general nonfiction, and fiction. Winners will be announced March 12 at a ceremony at the New School in Manhattan. The nominated titles form a fantastic reading list for anyone looking for something to read, with books like Lily King’s “Euphoria,” Hector Tobar’s “Deep Down Dark,” and Roz Chast’s graphic memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” among others.

But, let’s return for a moment to “Citizen.” Rankine uses poetry to cast a light on racism and violence that feels bound in this country’s makeup. The text, combined with graphic elements, is impossible to turn away from, and forces readers to take a step back and examine themselves and the world around them. What is it like to live in a world built on an accumulation of slights, intentionally offensive remarks, and invisibility? All too many citizens of this country live this experience daily. For those who do and those who don’t, this book is a must because it beautifully, directly, and powerfully gives words to experiences that are hard to fathom.

In a New York Times opinion piece, another NBCC nominee (in the poetry category, for “Prelude to Bruise”), Saeed Jones, writes arrestingly about how he began writing poems to make sense of what he was seeing in the world around him, and how it affects him, a black gay man, “How old were you when America taught you that being who you are could get you killed?”

As citizens of this America, wouldn’t it be ideal if we were all treated equally? Stay tuned on March 12 to see if Rankine’s or Jones’ voice become those of NBCC award winners. It would benefit all of us to hear more voices like these.

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