By Daniel J Vaccaro
For the better part of two decades, writer Claudia Rankine’s genre defying blend of poetry, prose and imagery has challenged readers to grapple with big, often uncomfortable questions about themselves and the American experience.
It seems fitting then that Rankine’s 2014 book, “Citizen: an American Lyric,” will serve as the centerpiece for a discussion about race and social justice in Denver this week.
Rankine joins Mayor Michael B. Hancock for two public conversations – one at Boettcher Concert Hall on Nov. 15 and the other at the Auraria Campus on Nov. 16. The campus event, sponsored by Metropolitan State University of Denver, begins at 12:30 p.m. in the Tivoli Turnhalle and is free to the public.
“As an academic institution, it is imperative that we facilitate robust debate and healthy dialogue about the most pressing issues of our day,” said MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., who will offer introductions for the Auraria Campus event. “We are honored to welcome a renowned author and the mayor to our campus for an important conversation with students.”
The conversations are part of Denver Talks, a citywide initiative that kicked off in early October and has included dozens of free events, art, theater and discussion. More than 1,600 free copies of “Citizen” have been distributed across the city. Copies are still available at Auraria Library and in audio and e-versions at Denver Public Library.
Rowena Alegría, the mayor’s senior adviser for community communications and lead coordinator for the Denver Talks initiative, was instrumental in bringing the event to the Auraria Campus. The 1991 graduate of MSU Denver said the University’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity made it an ideal partner.
“It’s more important than ever to give the leaders of the future the tools to engage in constructive conversation, advocacy and action,” she said. “I’m excited to connect this great city initiative with MSU Denver’s goal of producing highly educated and civically engaged members of our community.”
Davidson couldn’t agree more. Since becoming MSU Denver’s president in July, she has pushed to bring more esteemed thinkers and creators to campus to share their expertise with students. As an award-winning author and a 2016 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Rankine certainly fits that bill. Rankine will be the latest of several high-profile speakers, including former Mexican President Vicente Fox and NCIS Director Andrew Traver.
For Myron Anderson, MSU Denver’s associate to the president for diversity, the impact of this “courageous conversation” has the potential to extend well beyond the day of the event.
“My hope is that people will come away with an improved understanding of diversity and inclusion and some tools to help engage in more conversations moving forward,” he said. “The best result would be to see students and community members taking the ideas from the book and applying that newfound understanding in their own spheres of influence.”
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