Claudia Rankine Visits FIT

ClaudiaRankinePoet, playwright, and social commentator Claudia Rankine shared a little inside information with the audience of students and faculty when she appeared in a packed Katie Murphy Amphitheater at FIT to give a talk entitled “The Creative Imagination and Race.”

As a high-school student, Ms. Rankine told the rapt audience, she had travelled from her home in the Bronx to take a class at FIT in pattern-making.

“I don’t think the actual dress was ever made,” Rankine said, adjusting the bright-red scarf she wore over a black dress. “But I did make the pattern.”

It’s good to know that FIT played a part, however modest, in the development of one of the most insightful and incisive of contemporary American writers and commentators. And it was intriguing to note that Ms. Rankine interest in visual arts plays a vital role in her most recent poetry collection, the best-selling Citizen: An American Lyric.

Projected on a large screen as she spoke were a few of the many arresting images that appear in Citizen. For her talk here at FIT she selected an eclectic mix ranging from a pair of Nick Cave’s full-body Soundsuits to taxidermy artist Kate Clark’s Little Girl to Michael David Murphy’s photograph Jim Crow Rd., Flowery Branch.

In a soft, soothing voice, Ms. Rankine explained how each image came to be in the book as she wove each image into her poetic narrative of interpersonal racism in American life today.

Rankine’s embrace of visual art is perhaps as important to the success of Citizen as her mastery of poetic form. The images she projected as she spoke informed the poetic narrative just as the narrative informed the images, each underscoring the other in a way that caused the viewer to see the old, familiar world in new, unexpected and sometimes unsettling ways.

Rankine’s talk on the creative imagination was well-received here—even if she never did make that dress back in high school—and that makes sense. FIT prepares students for careers in the world of design, art, business and technology. Students and faculty alike at FIT embrace the creative imagination. We embrace the new, the unexpected and even the unsettling as we, like Rankine, take a good, hard look at the old, familiar ways of speaking to each other, and imagine something better.

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