A few years ago, poet Claudia Rankine gave a reading of “Citizen: An American Lyric,’’ her 2014 award-winning collection of poems exploring racism and aggression. During the question-and-answer period, a white man stood up. “He said he had been moved by ‘Citizen” and he wanted to know what he could do for me,” Rankine recalls. “I said that I was doing very well, thank you. The real question he should have asked was ‘What can he do for himself?’ ”
The audience member didn’t like her answer. “He said, ‘If you are going to answer questions like that, nobody is going to talk to you.’ How did we get there so quickly? The conversation is over?” The soft-spoken Rankine raises her hands in the air with a quizzical look.
The interaction haunted Rankine, a MacArthur fellow who teaches at Yale University.
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