Scholar and award-winning author Imani Perry will return to Alabama in February for a reading and discussion.
Pen Birmingham will host its final Birmingham Reads Project lecture with Perry on Wednesday Feb. 1 from 6-8 p.m. in Brown Hall at Miles College (5500 Myron Massey Blvd., Fairfield).
The scholar and professor will give a reading of her work, followed by a discussion with teaching artists Tania Russell and Brianna Jordynn Wright. After the conversation, the Birmingham Reads Project will host an audience question and answer session with a reception. The event is free and open to the public. Advance registration is required and available via Eventbrite.
Birmingham Reads, a citywide literary event from the Birmingham chapter of PEN America led by poet and author Alina Stefanescu and Alabama poet laureate Ashley M. Jones, is dedicated to engaging and uniting community members in reading one book of fiction or nonfiction a year.
Perry’s acclaimed book “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” is the program’s inaugural title. In September, the cohort of writers and teaching artists kicked off a series of discussions and workshops at libraries in and around Birmingham devoted to examining themes in Perry’s exploration of the American South.
“Reading Imani Perry’s essays with others and unpacking the baggage of local history in community allows us to pack for an inclusive future. I marvel at the power of literature to forge radical defiance and hope among strangers in a room,” Stefanescu said in a press release about the upcoming lecture. “At the heart of Birmingham Reads is the assumption that communities form around the meaning of language—that the way we use words defines the world as we know it. But words also define the way we are known in the world.”
In “South to America,” Perry takes readers on a narrative journey through the American South to examine the region’s role through a series of anecdotes, historical events, and personal experiences. Perry says understanding the South is the key to understanding the nation—an ethos that landed the scholar and cultural critic one of the nation’s highest literary honors.
In November, “South to America” won the National Book Award for nonfiction.
In late December, Barack Obama listed “South to America” on his rundown of favorite books, movies, and music of the year. The book is also on PEN America’s 2023 literary awards longlist. The organization will announce the finalists for the awards on Feb. 23.
Perry — a scholar of race, law, literature, and African-American culture — is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Perry has returned to Birmingham at least twice in the last three years for public lectures.
In 2019, Perry hosted a conversation with civil rights activist and scholar Dr. Angela Davis in conjunction with the Committee for Truth and Reconciliation, a group revived to tribute Davis after the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute rescinded the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights initially intended for Davis due to her longtime vocal support of Palestine. Weeks later, the African American Studies Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hosted Perry for a discussion of her book “May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem.”
In a previous interview, Birmingham Reads Project teaching artists Eric Marable Jr. and Tania Russell told AL.com they are thrilled to celebrate Perry when she returns to Birmingham.
“It’s amazing,” said Marable. “I’m someone who’s witnessing her work who’s [also] from Alabama.”
Marable, a poet and playwright who also serves as creative director for the nonprofit arts organization The Flourish, said “South to America” both speaks to uncovered misconceptions about the South and explains how the region set the foundation for the way the rest of the nation was founded.
“I love the way she was able to write about it. I love her work. It’s amazing that she’s reached this level of success. And I know we’re excited to welcome her back home, and for her to answer all of our questions and to continue enlightening us to things that I didn’t know, even being raised in the South. Our history gets so muddled,” said Marable. “I’m just excited for her to come back.
Tania Russell, whose collection of poetry “be gentle with Black girls,” debuted last year, is equally ecstatic to welcome Perry back to Alabama, especially in light of her National Book Award honor.
“I feel amazing! When I saw it, I screamed with excitement, because I feel like I know her through this book,” said Russell. “Her voice is so strong. I celebrated with her from a distance. I feel like this book should be implemented in at least 11th and 12th grade [in] high school, because it’s the best education there is.”