“If there were one impact I’d like my work to have, it would be that people would cease talking about African American history and culture in terms of deprivation or inadequacy and actually acknowledge its depth and complexity and beauty,” – Imani Perry
Born just nine years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Imani Perry was instilled from an early age with a strong instinct for justice and progressive change. The rich interplay between history, race, law, and culture continues to inform her work as a critically-acclaimed author and the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University.
Perry’s work reflects the beautiful and deeply complex history of Black thought, art, and imagination. It is also informed by her background as a legal historian and her understanding of the racial inequality embedded in American law.
Her most recent book, the New York Times bestselling South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, is an essential odyssey through the American South, and the way it defines American identity. In looking at the South through a historic, personal, and anecdotal lens, Perry asserts that if we do indeed want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line. “An essential meditation on the South, its relationship to American culture—even Americanness itself” (Tayari Jones, New York Times bestselling author of An American Marriage), South to America was a recommended book by The New York Times, TIME, Oprah Daily, USA Today, Vulture, Essence, Esquire, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Book Riot, and The Chicago Review of Books among other publications.
In her acclaimed Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, Perry explores the terror, grace, and beauty of coming of age as a Black person in contemporary America and what it means to parent our children in a persistently unjust world. Conceived as a letter to her young sons, this “uplifting and often lyrical meditation on living” (Booklist, starred review) offering compassion, dignity, and resilience as a balm to all Black children facing a world rife with racial hatred. As The New York Times noted, “Breathe is a parent’s unflinching demand, born of inherited trauma and love, for her children’s right simply to be possible.” The book was a finalist for the 2020 Chautauqua Prize and a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.
Perry is also the author of five other books including the Lambda Literary Award-winning biography Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry. A revealing biography of one of the most gifted and charismatic—yet least understood—Black artists and intellectuals of the twentieth century, the book was a 2018 notable book by the New York Times, the book received the PEN/Bograd-Weld Award for Biography; the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award for Outstanding Work in Literary Scholarship; and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, among other honors. Her other books include May We Forever Stand, a history of the Black National Anthem; More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States; and Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation.
Perry’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, and Harper’s, among other publications. Future planned projects include an examination of African American theories of law and justice, and a meditation on the color blue in Black life. She earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard University, a JD from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center and a BA from Yale College in Literature and American Studies.
Perry is a member of Black Artists for Freedom. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago, Perry lives outside Philadelphia with her two sons.here.