Writer Claudia Rankine has been selected as the latest recipient of the Theodore H. Holmes ’51 and Bernice Holmes National Poetry Prize awarded by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Creative Writing at Princeton University. She will present a talk entitled “On Whiteness and The Racial Imaginary Institute” on March 1 at 5:00 p.m. in the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater at 185 Nassau Street. The event is free and open to the public.
The Holmes National Poetry Prize was established in memory of Princeton alumnus Theodore H. Holmes, a Class of 1951 biology major who became a poet, and his sister Bernice. The prize is presented each year to a poet of special merit as selected by the faculty of the Creative Writing Program, which includes writers Jeffrey Eugenides, Jhumpa Lahiri, Paul Muldoon, James Richardson, Tracy K. Smith, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Susan Wheeler, and Edmund White. First made to Mark Doty in 2011, the prize has since also been awarded to Eduardo C. Corral, Natalie Diaz, Marie Howe, Matt Rasmussen and Evie Shockley. The prize’s candidates are nominated by faculty in Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing. Recipients receive a monetary prize and present a lecture at Princeton.
Claudia Rankine is the author of five collections of poetry, 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 Citizen, Rankine received the Forward Prize for Poetry, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry (Citizen was also nominated in the criticism category, making it the first book in the award’s history to be a double nominee), the Los Angeles Times Book Award, the PEN Open Book Award, and the NAACP Image Award. 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, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. She lives in New York City and teaches at Yale University as the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry.
“Whiteness as a source of unquestioned power, and as a ‘bloc,’ feels itself to be endangered even as it retains its hold on power,” explains Rankine. “Given that the concept of racial hierarchy is a strategy employed to support white dominance, whiteness is an important aspect of any conversation about race. This talk will make visible that which has been intentionally presented as inevitable so that we can move forward into more revelatory conversations about race.”
Rankine is currently teaching an advanced poetry course as a visiting professor of creative writing at Princeton. She visited Princeton last year as part of the Althea Ward Clark W’21 Reading Series, at which she followed a reading with an onstage conversation with Tracy K. Smith, the director of the Program in Creative Writing.