Common Reading Program

Summer Assignments

Message to New First-Year Students

You will receive a copy of Citizen during your Huskies Advising and Registration day. You are expected to read the book during the summer and bring the book with you to campus in the fall semester.

There will be programming related to the book during the Huskies First Four days and weeks. In addition to programs related to themes of the book, more than half of new students will use the book in one or more courses.

Below, please find some questions and material to support you in your exploration of the book during your summer reading experience and to help hone your critical reading skills.

Questions for your Reading

Before you begin reading, think about your thoughts and feelings on poetry in general. Have you read much poetry? What has been the role of poetry in your life? Is contemporary or American poetry within your scope of interest?

Reading Poetry
What is different about reading poetry? What makes the reading task different from other types of readings?  Consider the questions raised by the American Academy of Poets' Poetry 101: Resources for Beginners.
If it is true that reading poetry well is part attitude (curiosity, free of preconceived ideas) and part technique (asking questions, holding a conversation with the poet), as the Academy of American Poets explains, then how does it work for reading a long prose poem like Rankine’s? How can you consider attitude and technique separately? How do they work together?

What do you think it means to be a citizen? What words, definitions, or ideas do you associate with the word “citizen”? Do these associations line up with one group of people? What is the value of a personal narrative in bigger questions of citizenship?

Section II analyzes the racism and sexism tennis champion Serena Williams has experienced throughout her career.  Serena Williams has been back in the news this summer. What do you take away from the analysis of Williams’s experience about the nature of microaggression in contemporary society? How does this contrast with the portrayal of the privilege of white Americans throughout the text? How does the reference to the Zora Neal Hurston quote, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background,” resonate with your take on this?

(from Graywolf Press) Citizen narrates many instances of micro-aggressions—individual acts of racism that collectively form the crushing experience of racism in America. Is racism a singular action, or is it a series of acts? What is the difference between the singular action and the accumulation of them?

Flip through the book and look at the pictures.  What initial memories or impressions come to you when you look at the images in the book and on the cover? Section 6 is actual the scripts for situation videos that Rankine has produced with her husband, John Lucas, a documentary photographer and filmmaker. You can view these videos at Rankine’s website: How does seeing poetry as film change your experience of the poetry?

The Our Husky Compact dimension highlighted this academic year is THINK Creatively and Critically. Citizen was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Awards in both Poetry and Criticism. Critics have pointed to how Rankine’s work defies established distinctions between genres. Do you see the book more as poetry or as social critique? Both? Neither? In what ways do these distinctions matter? What is the effect on the reader of collapsing these distinctions?

What has changed in the three years since this book was published?  Do those changes make the themes of the book more or less relevant today than 3 years ago?  What is the role of various emotions (e.g., grief, anger, sadness, joy) in American social change?