Rankine ’84 receives Jackson Poetry Prize

On April 21, Poets & Writers, Inc. awarded Claudia Rankine ’84 the 2014 Jackson Poetry Prize. The prize is given annually to a poet “of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition,” according to the organization’s website.

“As the award gains in prestige, the media coverage it receives provides recognition within the field and more generally, amongst readers,” Rachel Schuder, senior manager of development and marketing at Poets & Writers, said. “We hope that it is heartening and fortifying to poets, for whom such recognition is sorely lacking today.”

As part of the award, Rankine will receive $50,000. This prize money was made possible by a donation from the Liana Foundation, which was established by the John and Susan Jackson Family.

Rankine was born in Kingston, Jamaica. She came to Williams in fall 1980. As a student, Rankine worked closely with two English professors, Louise Gluck and Lawrence Raab, who served as her thesis advisers. In an email interview, Rankine said of Gluck, “Under her tutelage, I learned not to settle until the work did exactly what I wanted it to do … in many ways she continues to model for me … what it means to be a poet in the world.”

After earning her BA in English from the College, Rankine attended Columbia where she earned her MFA in poetry. In the past, Rankine has been awarded fellowships by the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation.

Rankine has published four books of poetry including Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Plot, The End of the Alphabet and Nothing in Nature is Private. She is scheduled to release a fifth book titled Citizen: An American Lyric in October. In addition, Rankine has released several plays including Provenance of Beauty: A South Bronx Travelogue and Existing Conditions.

Rankine’s writing focuses on race and feeling. Her upcoming book “catalogs encounters – in the media, online, on the tennis court and in my own life – where inequalities erupt in language and action,” according to Rankine.

In the official press release, the committee said of Rankine’s poetry, “The moral vision of Claudia Rankine’s poetry is astounding. In a body of work that pushes the boundaries of the contemporary lyric, Rankine has managed to make space for meditation and vigorous debate upon some of the most relevant and troubling social themes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries … In both vision and voice she has distinguished herself as a singular perspective, a consummate talent and a courageous spirit.”

Rankine is the eighth recipient of the award. Previous winners have included Arthur Sze, Henri Cole, James Richardson, Harryette Mullen, Linda Gregg, Tony Hoagland and Elizabeth Alexander.

At the beginning of the selection process, Poets & Writers, Inc. chose a group of anonymous poets to make nominations. After the poets submitted these nominations, a second committee made up of well-known poets Tracy K. Smith, David St. John and Mark Strand selected the final winner.