Ebony Williams’ notes on Claudia Rankine’s appearance as part of ALOUD at the Los Angeles Public Library


On Thursday, October 23rd at 7:15 PM, Claudia Rankine read from her new book, CITIZEN, as part of the ALOUD lecture series at the Los Angeles Public Library.

[ALOUD] brings together today’s brightest cultural, scientific, and political luminaries with the curious minds of Los Angeles.

Thank you to Ebony Williams for sharing her notes. 

* * * *

Robin Coste Lewis

“When God first laid eyes on us, she went mad with envy.”

-Robin Coste Lewis

“…told you the Black side of my family owned slaves and you still wanted to kiss me.”

Voyage of the Sable Venus is the title of a colonial painting and the title of Robin Coste Lewis’ forthcoming book. Her work acts as a container that holds the titles of all western art that has a Black female figure present. She tackles the idea of how to create a narrative out of these titles that span 38 BC to the present.

Robin’s work addresses citizenship from the internal conflict that is constant in the Black female body.


Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine asked a friend, “What’s a time you think of yourself as a white woman relative to the Black body?” After some time of thought her response was, “When I see a Black man with an empty seat next to him.”

Citizen- An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine explores: The Black male body.The state of the Black male body. The state of Black maleness. The state of Black boyhood. The space that perpetually follows the Black male body when walking, sitting, standing in relation to all others. The space between all of us in relation to race. The idea of owning space versus having space move you.

In her conversation with Robin Coste Lewis as moderated by Maggie Nelson , Rankine speaks to what it means to be a citizen especially in the Black body as the world tells you, you do not exist. In the midst of this message, there is an internal journey. An internal conflict that is constant in the Black body where one is put in the position to prove their citizenship, their personhood, prove they deserve access to freedom they already have.

Claudia Rankine employs the second person in Citizen to, in my reading, implicate and move the reader around in the space the text occupies internally as well as in the external world. Second person also allows the reader to position themselves in relation to Black people and the idea of Blackness in the social consciousness. There is no way to be passively engaged in Citizen as citizenship concerns us all.

When asked if the use of the second person can be read as an act of aggression, Rankine’s response made room for this reading: “…could be but could also be an embrace…depends on how you receive it…I was writing it as an embrace…saying you come here.” She goes on to say that if one receives it as aggressive, this might say something more about them than about the work itself.

Ebony Williams is a transplant to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, New York with a B.A from Wheaton College in Sociology and an MFA in Writing from CalArts. Her writing, such as How to Build A Ragdoll and Grey Society, explores the experiences of women throughout the African diaspora and the female body as container for memory, for culture, for an ancestral home often impacted by trauma. Ebony aims to embrace, complicate, break apart, and rebuild the way she/we understand family, culture, gender, race, the body/being embodied, and home. Ebony is founder of The Ragdoll Project, an interdisciplinary arts and healing program that works with Survivors of Sexual Assault, families, and children. Ebony is currently earning a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and completing a certificate in Social Emotional Arts. She is a trainee at the YWCA Sexual Assault Crisis Center providing therapy to survivors in the South Bay area.


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