Born just nine years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 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 professor of studies of women, gender, and sexuality and of African and African American studies at Harvard University.
Perry’s work reflects the deeply complex history of Black thought, art, and imagination. It is also formed by her background as a legal historian and her understanding of the racial inequality embedded in American law. Her latest book, National Book Award-winner South to America: A Journey Below the Mason Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, is a narrative journey through the American South, positioning it as the heart of the American experiment for better and worse. 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. A “rich and imaginative tour of a crucial piece of America” (Publishers Weekly), South by America defies classification. In her New York Times book review, Tayari Jones writes, “Any attempt to classify this ambitious work, which straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing—well, that’s a fool’s errand and only undermines this insightful, ambitious, and moving project…. An essential meditation on the South, its relationship to American culture—even Americanness itself…. This work—and I use the term for both Perry’s labor and its fruit — is determined to provoke a return to the other legacy of the South, the ever-urgent struggle toward freedom.” South to America was named a best book of 2022 by the New Yorker, Time, Kirkus, and Oprah Daily, and longlisted for the 2023 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction.
In each of her previous works of scholarship, Perry endeavors to apply the lessons of modern history to our present struggle, whether to challenge or to celebrate. May We Forever Stand traces the history of the Black National Anthem; More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States is an examination of contemporary practices of racial inequality that persist despite formal declarations of racial equality; Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation is a work of critical theory that traces the thread of modern patriarchy from the transatlantic slave trade and the age of conquest through the present day; Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop engages with the artistry, politics, and culture of hip hop.
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.