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Claudia Rankine's PLS Speech Will Kick Off NEA Big Read Locally

By Joe Garvey

New York Times best-selling author Claudia Rankine will kick off the National Endowment for the Arts' Big Read Hampton Roads with a speech at 7 p.m. Feb. 21 in the Big Blue Room at Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center. Her appearance also will be part of ODU's President's Lecture Series.

Due to overwhelming response, all tickets for the Big Blue Room have been claimed. The Village Bookstore on Monarch Way will have her book "Citizen: An American Lyric" available for purchase at the Constant Center, and a signing will take place after the presentation. Books can also be purchased at the bookstore's website.

The local Big Read initiative will consist of a monthlong series of events centered around "Citizen," Rankine's powerful work that focuses on race and identity in America and looks at racism primarily through her friends' everyday experiences.

In addition to being selected for the Big Read, "Citizen" won several honors, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award and the NAACP Image Award. It's also the only poetry book to be a New York Times nonfiction bestseller.

Rankine, whose speech is also sponsored by the President's Task Force on Inclusive Excellence, is the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry at Yale University and chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The author of five collections of poetry, Rankine has received fellowships from the MacArthur and Guggenheim foundations and has participated in several video collaborations and edited anthologies, including "The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind."

"Claudia Rankine's book 'Citizen: An American Lyric' has a powerful message that strongly aligns with our University's values of equity and diversity," President John R. Broderick said, "and I am proud of ODU's role in spearheading this truly regional Big Read project."

Hampton Roads is one of 79 communities nationwide participating in the NEA Big Read. From Feb.21 to March 23, a full calendar of events is scheduled, including performances, lectures, book readings, art displays and more. The local event was two years in the making, led by Lea Lee, a professor in the Teaching and Learning Department in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, and George Fowler, ODU's University Librarian.

Local sponsors include the Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Poquoson, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach public libraries; ODU's libraries and English, art, dance and theater departments; the Muse Writers Group; the Virginia Beach History Museums; the YMCA of South Hampton Roads; Teens With a Purpose; the Asian Pacific American Heritage Organization, and WHRO/WHTV public radio and TV affiliate.

"We want to build community through meaningful dialogue, engagement and reflection around reading a book in common, particularly one on a topic so timely and relevant to our current society," Fowler said.

For more information, contact ODU Libraries Communication Coordinator Carrie Anderson at c3anders@odu.edu or go to the Hampton Roads Big Read website.

A national initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

The President's Lecture Series serves as a marketplace for ideas, featuring renowned speakers who share their knowledge, experience, opinions and accomplishments. Discussing timely topics, the series puts diversity first, showcasing authors, educators, business innovators and political figures.

Up next is Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. He will be the Marc and Connie Jacobson Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Speaker. His talk is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 19 at the Constant Center.

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