It's inconceivable to reflect on 21st-century poetry and prose without mentioning Claudia Rankine. The Kingston, Jamaica-born lyricist is not only a decorated author but also an accomplished editor, lending her editing skills to several books that focus on the intersection of race and expression. The now 58-year-old earned her bachelor's degree at Williams College before setting her sights on a master's of fine arts from Columbia University in New York.

Since her debut work in the early 1990s, Rankine has gone on to earn accolades from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts and many more organizations. In addition, students at the University of Houston, Case Western Reserve University, Pomona College and Barnard College have the benefit of calling her a one-time professor.

She's one of the few poets still worth studying, and ahead are five works that provide a well-rounded portrayal of both tone and central themes across her writing.