The Meaning of Serena Williams

Powerful Writing in NYTimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Poet Claudia Rankine’s essay in the Times’ Sunday magazine is an example of compelling writing about a terrifically talented and inspirational woman, tennis star Serena Williams.

Beyond the  meaning of the aptly named Serena to African-Americans that is the focus of the essay--which touched me even though I am not black–the piece reminds us all of the importance of joy and humor and the need to express those emotions. Which is impossible unless you also share the frustration, rage and disappointments. The photos of Serena after her victories are all marked by her trademark grin.

I loved references to Serena’s reactions to bad tournament calls, especially to an incident at the U.S. Open in 2009:

“She will tell an audience or an official that they are disrespectful or unjust, whether she says, simply, ‘‘No, no, no’’ or something much more forceful, as happened at the U.S. Open in 2009, when she told the lineswoman, ‘‘I swear to God I am [expletive] going to take this [expletive] ball and shove it down your [expletive] throat.’’ And in doing so, we actually see her. She shows us her joy, her humor and, yes, her rage. She gives us the whole range of what it is to be human…”

All in all, the essay is a portrait of a champion who has grown emotionally during her years in the spotlight. She expresses something about herself that I certainly aspire to achieve: ”

“I play for me,’’ Serena said, ‘‘but I also play and represent something much greater than me. I embrace that. I love that. I want that. So ultimately, when I am out there on the court, I am playing for me.’’

Claudia Rankine is the Aerol Arnold Professor of English at the University of Southern California, and the author of five collections of poetry. Her most recent work, Citizen, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. I plan to get that book and I enthusiastically recommend her magazine piece on Serena Williams. It’s insightful on so many levels. By framing it in terms of her own experience, Rankine enriched my understanding and appreciation not only of Serena, but of the power of compelling writing.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. 

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