The Evanston Public Library has chosen “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine as the book for its 10-week community reading program, “Evanston Reads,” beginning in February. Ms. Rankine teaches at Pomona College. “Citizen” was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry and winner of the NAACP Image Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN Open Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry was also a finalist for the same award in criticism. It was also named one of the best books of the year by numerous media outlets, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and Publisher’s Weekly.
Multiple book discussions, films, a “human” library, poetry readings, lectures, panels, and gallery tours will all contribute to a comprehensive and creative exploration of “Citizen,” which has won many awards and accolades. The New York Times describes the experience of reading the book “like viewing an experimental film or live performance. One is left with a mix of emotions that linger and wend themselves into the subconscious.” It is a touchstone for talking candidly about attitudes and experiences of race.
Events will take place in venues throughout Evanston, kicking off in February with a program facilitated by Alicia Crosby of the Center for Inclusivity, from 2 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 11 in the Main Library, 1703 Orrington Ave. The event will unpack “Citizen” through conversation, and will feature an interactive panel, group discussion, and time of community reflection to explore the themes of visibility, bias, and belonging, all of which are present in Ms. Rankine’s book.
Book discussions of “Citizen” will take place on a variety of dates at various locations throughout Evanston, including Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, the Library’s North Branch and Chicago Avenue/Main St. Branch (CAMS), the Main Library, the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, the YWCA Evanston/Northshore, Ridgeville Community Center, the Evanston History Center, and the Frances Willard House.
Additional programs will include art displays by students from Chute and Nichols, inspired by the themes in “Citizen,” screenings of the movies “Crown Heights” and “Whose Streets,” and readings from poets including Parneshia Jones, Krista Franklin, Kelly Norman Ellis, and Nate Marshall. A “Human Library,” will provide opportunity for library patron “readers” to borrow human “books” for about 20 minutes each for dialogue with those whose experiences are different from their own. A lecture from Kate Masur, Northwestern History Professor, will explore the history of racism in American law.
“This is the third year we’ve worked with various Evanston partners on a community reading program. We’re very pleased to have been chosen for a second year to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support our efforts. “Citizen” will help us have enlightening discussions and thoughtful exploration,” said Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons.
The kickoff event: “See Me, Protect Me, Include Me: Unpacking Rankine’s Citizen through Conversation,” will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 11. There will be an interactive panel, group dialogue, and time of community reflection designed to explore this question and the themes of visibility, bias, and belonging present in “Citizen: An American Lyric.”
There will be two book discussions in February: at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 21 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster St. (registration required at epl.org or 847-448-8620: and at 7 p.m. on Feb. 22 at the North Branch Library, 2026 Central St.
Other book discussions and events are scheduled through April.