« Desert Island Discs

Claudia Rankine, poet

2023-07-09 | 🔗
Claudia Rankine is a poet, essayist and playwright. She is best known for her book Citizen: An American Lyric which combines short stories about everyday injustices experienced by people of colour with poems telling the stories of black men who died during confrontations with the police. The book won several awards in the US and the UK’s Forward Prize for best collection in 2015. Claudia was born in Kingston, Jamaica and at seven followed her parents to New York City where they had emigrated some years before. After graduating from university in 1993, she won a poetry prize for her thesis which became her first book – Nothing in Nature is Private. In addition to her poetry Claudia has written three plays and has taught at several universities including Yale and New York University. In 2016 she won a prestigious ‘Genius Grant’ from the MacArthur Fellowship which celebrates intellectual and artistic achievement and awards its winners hundreds of thousands of dollars. She used the money to co-found the Racial Imaginary Institute which interrogates notions of race and whiteness. Claudia lives in Connecticut with her husband, the photographer and filmmaker John Lucas. DISC ONE: Good as Hell - Lizzo DISC TWO: Stir It Up - Bob Marley & The Wailers DISC THREE: Nightshift - Commodores DISC FOUR: More Than This - Roxy Music DISC FIVE: Can't Take My Eyes Off of You (I Love You Baby) - Lauryn Hill DISC SIX: Kiss - Prince & The Revolution DISC SEVEN: My Favorite Things - John Coltrane DISC EIGHT: The Rhythm Of The Night - Corona BOOK CHOICE: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner LUXURY ITEM: A solar powered television, playing tennis matches CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Good as Hell - Lizzo Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
BBC sounds music. Radio, podcasts. Well, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them. If they were cast away to a desert island and for rights reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast out. You enjoy listening. I, my castaway this week- is the poet ceased and playwright, claudia rankin. She was born in jamaica and grew up in kingston new york. Her love of poetry dates
to her childhood when she went to lollipop for reciting Emily Dickinson, because I could not stop the death she's best known her book citizen, an american lyric which one numerous awards in the: u S and the forward prize here in the uk, through a blend of prose and poetry and in say about the tennis, superstar serena Williams. It chronicles the everyday acts of casual racism experienced by black people in America today. according to the new york times, citizen, had achieved something that alludes much modern poetry, urgency in twenty two steam. She won a prestigious genius grant from the macarthur fellowship which celebrates into Tool and artistic achievement to day she is proof, of creative writing at new york university. She says I right because I dont want to become is it with my own eurasia quota.
And can welcome to desert. Thank you for having me it's such a pleasure, Claudia you described your approach to writing is all in. I wonder what that feels like in the moment when you are actually doing. It means that I forget that I have dinner reservations when people call up in their ike. Are you coming and I'm sitting over, a piece of paper working on something etc. Never strange moment where everything that said to everything you see some our relates to what you're doing you do spend of time listening. I went away you here you most inspiring ideas in as your conversations I love taking the boss. I sometimes when I'm in a place I'll take the bus to the last stop. Sometimes will turn around and go back, but sometimes you have to get off and get another bussing go back, but right, and then you hear the most fantastic things like mother and daughter, the data will say I dont, like brushing
here in the dad will say: well most people rush they're here you and the little exchanges stay with you forever and you beauty perfect. call yourself an archivist rather than an activist? Can you tell me about that distinction, while I think of activism people who actually put themselves out in the streets and I a lot for me to leave. My have really. I can't go out there but I am really interested in in history what has happened to lead us to this moment and the questions we, be asking both of the past and the present its timely first disclosure. But if you chosen Liz is good as hell for my birthday, My daughter, god tickets to Elizabeth concert and it's the first council I've been to in years. I think that one before that was John armand training or something
it was nice to be able to go and listen to an artist that both of us airship my daughter's twenty. That both of us feel passionately about because she is, I think, the woman of tomorrow just so much in alexander, surround why and so much joy and potential for tomorrow.
Maybe you need to kick up soon. Take a deep breath. You on the banks by night patch and not a matter of payment by you up and saying we did you. We can make europe less, who this morning claudia, can you were born in kingston, jamaica in nineteen. Sixty three, the parents emigrated to the? U s, When you about three and you stayed behind, with an ant. What comes back to you when you think about you really? Is there the only real memory I have of those early seven years was going to school with my cousin, precious and her explore
to me that most people go to school, and that was it. I remember that and then I remember being on a plane to united states. So tell me and about going to the? U s by the time you were about seven. I think your parents had established themselves there and they were able to send for you, so they both got jokes in hospitals. The father is an orderly and your mother is nessus assistant. What you meant prevent the journey. It was american airlines and they gave you those wings that you pinned on your shirt and the stewardess gave me a sweater. She said that you're gonna need this it was a white islet sort. I remember that and then I got here and my life if, as in american began- and it though one thing I do remember seeing a television for the first time and I was perplexed as to where all the people lived
and I would walk around and look at the back of the tv and think are they in their all the people you see when you turn on the t, so the families living in bronx. How well did you That settle into his new life, James, you father, I remember him being he has passed away, but I remember him being very: politically engage with the issue If the union then those kinds of conversations, but he was very volatile. you know now, looking back knowing what black people black men we have to deal with in the union it states, and certainly during the sixty seventies, it survive we'll told time and when he came home, whatever rage he had in his workplace was brought into the house. Was he physically abusive as he? Finally, he was. and it was the kind of violence at you never knew was coming. You would
the one thing in and you know, you'd be across the room kind of we frightened of him. You must have been. I was right it made me even in school, very cautious. When two catholic schools and the nuns also a very violent, and so they would hate you. For forgetting a hallmark of her in and so it was slow, from the home where that was happening into the classroom? That also was happening. Let's go to the music claudia, it's time for Your second choice today, but we can here we're going stir it up, which was a favorite of my mom? She You come home from school and she would be dancing to this website. Dance. Where would it be played kitchen. You know it would just be on it would be turned off soon after we arrived very clearly on her own. She found
bob marley in wales and stir it up Claudia rank and let's talk about your mother LA than how would you describe her my mother's of forests? Is you know she is now about to turn ninety and always looks great and really somebody who has your back and No, that when you are in your late twenties and about to get married, she broke some pretty shocking news to you. What happened? What did she say
It was on because I was engaged to sort of my college sweetheart and by my late twenties I we decided to get married and She said you need to come and get your birth certificate so I went to home and she said, on the birth certificate. You'll see where it says, father there's nothing. It turns out. She had been raped and I was a product of that rape and her gratitude to him to my father was that he had agreed to marry her knowing she was pregnant, that's a lot to taken so was alot. It is. embryo feelings and in that moment there is thing about being released from him that I wasn't to buy a logic, we attach to that rage, and did she tell you
anything about your biological, father and new. He was well done the first thing I asked her: who is this person? She gave a name, but the name came and went very quickly and if I asked if she says she doesn't remember, it's as if, whatever happened in that conversation came, and then was locked up again? How do you read that what do you make of it well I've been a lot of therapy in my life and I think I understand it if she can which he can bear, and it gave me much more compassion. For my mother, I think We became women who shared something instead, a daughter who was critical of her inability to leave. I became woman who is compassionate about. Her trauma think it's time for similar means
claudia your third choice today. What are we gonna hear next night shift by the common, Of this is a song that I first appreciate: by seeing a film called thirty five shots of rum by clear denying it and it's a song that has shown up. I work a number of times, probably most recently in. justice us, because it actually happen that in real life I was sitting next to a man on plain anti ask me what my favorite song was and I said knight ship and we both knew it and we actually sang it together and it will which is it particularly interesting because the conversation was about the differences between being a white male and being a black woman, so it became this meeting
gonna, be simply coming night shift contest. Throaty, ranking your early education and set a catholic school is referred to have said that the mood Sweden, my heart, was in reading. I wonder what you are reading it and where it took you reading all of gerald all up Hemingway. I would stand by?
the window when it was raining and think I was in a hemingway enough and we reading also an escape from distresses of home and school. Exactly. I think if you had a bow can you could tuck in no one bother you it was. having an extra room in the house. We could just go soul if imagination and appetite for learning, did your teachers notice it at school? Did they appreciated in you? I got the grades, but not the recognition? No I remember once we had exams and I had I am quite well in the exams. I did you not one of those people who manages to do. Ok in schools and I remember the woman in front of me was a child and for me, is a white girl and she hadn't achieved as much, but You just said to her: oh fantastic gray, and then he came to me and she said what a surprise
What is the prize? You ve gotten top marks on this and those kinds of moments when you just you see the difference in the treatment. When did the poetry come in fiji in color She took a class Adrian, which was on the syllabus and many of which his palm have to do with men talking to women, and I thought these Poems are good, but I could do better than that. And what about when you were even younger, because you did not lollipop when you did and is my mom. She was making me recite palms and they I had said it in third grade: go home and learn a poem and come back, and you know the kids back in their recited captain add or whatever and the mind up and I was like them and I am
maybe stand in the living room and memorizes thing and say to her. So I did it. I got up and beside it. this Emily dickinson poem, because I could not stop for death that kindly stopped for me, the carriage Hell, but just ourselves and in mortality unworthy tickets income from for your mom. Do you think that a passion of ass? I from her own schooling. I think in jamaica, there's a lot of recitation that happens and she just a few christmases ago. She usually spends christmas with my husband and I and my daughter and she started reciting all of these poems by county collar and then thanks in use- and I had not known she had them in her. I think it's time for your next track: claudia rank in number what are we gonna hear? Next, more than this by proxy music, I feel like it. This is a lot will do.
I shouldn't say this, but I love this because it's so sexy from the centre and the sound sounded so slinky. It says lincoln. When did it come into your life? Probably my twenties
You know when the boyfriend was over roxy music and more than this clarity rank in the early nineties. You went to columbia university in new york and he was studying for masters in poetry. There your time that led to the publication of your first but nothing, a natures, private, the core from the publisher, however, took you by surprise, I think,
what exactly happened at columbia, You have to hand in a thesis and when I was doing man there was a woman in the copy roman. She said oh I'm going to, make a second copy and send this to this prize? You should do it too, very generous in her and I did, but she had the address and she knew everything and said she, the have it and it went off. And then, in the middle of the summer, singing on god now airs and gown k. You ve got to figure out if you're gonna get along go what you gonna do with yourself and the phone rang these people said is party rank, it knew one the clue, poetry prize, and I said no, it's not me because I haven't applied for any prizes and they said. We have your manuscripts and I said that can't be. How did you get it and they said you centre
Do the penny drop them and then slowly began to come back to me like, oh, and that they published and they also offered me a job so that started my teaching career. So he started. King at a university in cleveland and while we were there, you met your now husband, the photographer and film maker John Lucas, as an interracial what did you ever experience any hostility, nuts, hostility just and this kind of thing still and it's a kind of invisibility, an happens in restaurants, where he'll come in and veil see him and then they'll say to me: how can we help you and I think if I also had the well frightening experience of being pulled over in your car there. There are many but the one that comes to mind
is being stopped by the police and they asked us there. Him how he knew me. Wasn't driving, so it's irrelevant There is no reason to pull us over because booing speeding but the police, and both sides of the car and I was quite intimidating. Actually they didn't speak to me they said to him. How do you know her? I don't know thought I was you know he had picked me up off the side of the road or something him, and what did he say? What did you say? Why did you deal with the He said I was his wife, you know, and they didn't push further than that, but they were ready for something. In that sense. You describe of not being immediately understood as a unit of two. Do you think that can put? strain on on the relationship. I think it
it's a strain if the other person, whoever they are refuses to acknowledge? What's happening? John and I have always been in complete recognition of, dynamics going around us and often the one who says you know let go because he is on it. That I think has allowed us not to carry it further than it needs to be carried. Let us mommy's, Claudia your fifth choice today. What have you gone for and why and take my eyes off you that was the song by Lauren hell that we played at our wedding We had a wedding in new york and then we for some reason, John wanted to get married again in whales. So We went to wales with some friends and played on the beach harlequin.
and you know we state in a hotel. Everybody must have and ninety, so all the food was mash everything everything was match but the music on the beach in the rain in the wind was spent. and why whales I don't know- and he doesn't know, but he wanted to do it so we did it
you're, just like that you're just claude underway stay silent. We can't take my eyes off you. I love you baby by lorn hill, Claudia rank in twenty fourteen you're much loaded book citizen came out, so it combines short stories about the everyday injustices experienced by people of color within poems and then tell- the stories of black men who have died during confrontations with the police. I wonder but that idea of placing those very small moments alongside the biggest stories and and why that's important, can you explain to us it's one thing
to tell a single story, but another thing to understand that if a thing happens again and again and again and again that management of that we'll have a cost that mistake: the small moments, what people call the paper cuts that become a kind of way ring that where's you down. You have you black people in the room and your colleagues call you back, the other person's name. They can quite figure it out. You have people and this happened to me, telling you that the only reason you got into school was because of affirmative action or that you have their job. If for you than they would have gotten the job, but they had to hire a person of color in things like this, even though you clearly
are there out of merit, and so these kinds of things, even though they get laughed off for arms? with silence or you home, and you think about them. You think about that person. You know that the next say you have to encounter that person and you wanted your job and you wanna. So you use swallow so much and then in the new somebody has been killed by the police because their black, and so you see how it amplifies. there is also an essay about serena Williams, who I know you're a huge fan of what you want to include s story, I thought want to An example where the reader can look it up for themselves where they can go back and watch a match, your watch
to view or watch something and see that I am just reporting what was said to her body was being criticized Her manners were being criticise, her claws being everything and then she would win As these things were happening, she would women, and I was convinced that the reason she would win is who's. She responded. so she wasn't holding it in committee, it's time to make some room for the music, your sixth desk today. What we gonna hear, kiss by prince and the revolution during college. We used to have prince parties. I have to tell you how he was a symbol of freedom. You know people say you is between Michael Jackson and parents, but there is it. There was prince all the way, yeah the
the prince and the revolution with kiss claudia, Can you call your most recent work? Just us a series of conversations about whiteness and you ve said that, unlike If your writing, it's very subjective. What did you want to focus on your own experiences in that way? The people I don't to even though I married to a white guy. I dont really talk to white men. I have a lot of wide female frowned, but I go to their house in their husband. There are like a high quality and then they go upstairs, and so I thought I would I wouldn't. I spent a lot of times in the airports and on airplanes,
and those are the lemonade spaces. Weary you just past time and so why not use the time to find out what their thinking can give you an example of a constructive interaction, a constructive I well. I sitting next to a guy and he's a guy actually who I sang night shift with an we were taught, about racial dynamic. She was at his ahead of accompanying ceo of a company. and he said to me that they we're doing diversity were, but him solve, didn't see. Color didn't see race, and it was one of those ones or as I go now. Why did you say that? Did you call it? I did I I I hated it go, I said: in I, a black woman into a white man cause. I was thinking you're going to go home and you're going to say to your wife. I had a nice conversation with a black woman you're not going
say, I had a nice conversation with a woman and he was just like you got me and so then we you know- and I was glad for myself- that I hadn't back down. Because I liked him and he didn't get defensive, equal, very powerful exam flynn the book of how, in your words the world tends. So I think it was when you at the first class, came to waiting to board a plane. What happened I was going up to check in and a woman comes right. Many out from behind the counter And she says to me: this is the first you want go down there and I to her look, I can read, and then she says, let me see your ticket she then sends me to the counter. So I'm cutting the line now cosette You know a line of like ten people and their all and there are laughing because they are seeing what's happening as well and
I get on the plane and I see three stewardess and they are talking and looking over me. And I am exasperated at this point and I think what is it now. And finally, one of em comes over to me answers. Are you the poet and she's talking, back to the other two saying I love her work, so you ever know which direction these things are going. Do you ever come across people, say, give written enough about this. When are you going to move on to something else? That happens quite often actually paper like aren't I'm tired, but- and I say we did them you know when the system changes- then we'll stop talking about it, it's time to go to the music, claudia disk number, seven. What have you got for us, John crawled trains, favorite things
and I just love that coltrane is able to pull it into a kind of jazz blues black. instability where it goes from a kind of Denial of its initial sadness is nazi ism in two. a song of almost morning,
my favorite things performed by two countries.
claudia rankin. In twenty twelve, you were diagnosed with breast cancer. You fully recovered now, but Did the experience change your attitude to your work and what you wanted to say? having cancer, Was the moment that I decided I'm gonna, just do what I wanna do is to freedom. It's not about, I think, when I die tomorrow, it's I'm gonna live today, which is a different thing, the subject Two of your writing often involves difficult conversations in challenging territory. Do you ever feel grand down by what you writing about physically when it comes to describing, though those structures that you were discussing an and if so, what takes you out of yourself? There's some, writers who, when their working they locked away.
I'm not that person. You know my husband come and say. Look at this thing on tiktok and it'll make you smile for a minute, that's a different since a cancer. I think I definitely am I sort of in a swivel chair, I my all turned to that gimme ten minutes I'll take the world, you know it's fun wrote once Claudia I'm really interested in what it is to be human were all are going to make a life looking back at you, as we have been today, the life so far. How satisfied to you feel I have to I am pleased with I've lived my life and who I have supported in my life. What Britain, who I've loved so you know knock on wood. It's been a good one. and I'm about to send you off to the islands. How are you feeling about
do you like your own company? I do actually I, like my own company, but I love visitors, what's gonna have adds, gives you gonna happen, rather that it is not a lot of what we can do a lot. You will more track before we send you away claudia. What's he gonna be your final choice today. the rhythm of the night by corona its size heard in another cleared daname film, called boats or by its kind of actually a man on an island by himself he's. Dancing and he dances the film out after behaving very bad, throughout the very he's been very human in his jealousies and all kinds of things, but it's really a stunning moment of fronting ones alone, this the
the my life the I The rhythm of the night so claudia rankin, I'm going to send you away to the islands, I'm giving you the bible. The complete works of shakespeare Annie can take one of the book. What will it be? I'm going to take faulkner's, as I lay dying, partly because the book made up of sections that are short but complete in an of themselves. So you can pretend that you have ten books
but you don't have to read a long time to get to the debates and they're all different characters and really beautifully written, and what a luxury ice him, I don't know how we're all plug it end, but I think I would like a television, so I what some tennis, maybe you could be in the future? sure the television that works in the future about a plug weakened a solar powered television? We go. We can pre loaded with with tennysons tournaments past us. We can't. you are communication device that would in any way keep you in touch with the world, but we can certainly give you plenty of tennis yeah, but you know nadal, federer or serena. I'd be good, all archive it and finally, which one track of the that you ve shared with us today. Would you rush to save from the waves? If yachting, I think I might need popping up, so I think it will be losers, good as hell.
claudia rank and thank you very much for letting us here. Your desert island discs. Thank you. I I hope you enjoy my conversation with claudia, we'll leave her watching a favorite tennis moments on her solar powered television. We ve castaway many points, including lamb, sissy gillian clock and in a minute he can find these episodes
a desert island discs programme archive and through BBC sands, studio. Manager for today's programme was Michael men and the assistant producer was Christine Pavlovsk iii and the producer was pull them in guinea. The The.
I'm John southworth, and this is the story of my quest to ask a question the fact you have no right to tell me not to ask questions. It's one. That's become embroiled in the fractious and fevered politics of our times, it's very dangerous to stir up suspicion. Rumors, it's not racist at all. No letter of it comes from china, but it's a question that matters. Where did kovac come from fever, the hunt for over its origin from BBC radio for listen, subscribe on BBC sounds.
Transcript generated on 2023-07-15.