National Book Award-Winning Scholar Imani Perry to Speak at MTSU

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Imani Perry MTSU Lecture
Dr. Imani Perry, right, with the cover of “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation," 2022 winner of the National Book Award for Nonfiction and the MTSU 2023B Black History Month logo

National Book Award-winning scholar Imani Perry will discuss how one region’s people and cultures have influenced a nation when she travels “South to America” to visit Middle Tennessee State University Thursday, Feb. 9.

Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and an interdisciplinary scholar of race, law, literature and African American culture, is set to speak at 11:20 a.m. Feb. 9 in the ballroom of MTSU’s Student Union, 1768 MTSU Blvd.

The free public event is part of the university’s 2023 Black History Month celebration.

An MTSU parking map is available at https://bit.ly/MTSUParking. Off-campus guests can get a one-day permit at https://mtsu.edu/parking/visit.php or park free in the university’s Rutherford Boulevard Lot and ride the Raider Xpress shuttle to the Student Union.

Perry’s 2022 book, “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” received the National Book Award for Nonfiction last November. It chronicles her visits to more than a dozen cities in the South to examine the region’s history, culture and people and their impact on all of America.

A native of Alabama who also lived in Chicago, Milwaukee and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Perry earned her undergraduate American studies and literature degree at Yale, then received both her American civilization doctorate and her law degree from Harvard.

She told the New York Times in 2011 that her Black heritage wasn’t the sole catalyst for her academic focus. Instead, a childhood spent amid an abundance of American people, places and cultures in different regions made her more aware, and more curious, about all races.

“I was also exposed to people from different walks of life: intellectuals, activists, visual artists, musicians, expatriates and everyday working folk. I was a ‘cradle Catholic’ but raised among Jewish people, Quakers, Buddhists, people who joined various Hindi sects,” Perry explained.

“In the midst of this gorgeous mélange, I recognized that ‘race’ affected all the environments and people I encountered. And I wanted to understand why. I was drawn to explore both the terrible and the beautiful things about race.”

For “South to America,” the professor traveled across the South, using historic sites and events to prompt anecdotes and share personal experiences in what many critics have praised as “lyrical” and “lush” prose.

In accepting her National Book Award, Perry, the author of five books and an NAACP Image Award nominee for literature, explained what guides her writing.

“I write for my people,” she said. “I write because we, children of the lash-scarred, rope choked, bullet-ridden, desecrated are still here, standing. I write for the field holler, the shout, the growl, the singer, the signer and the signified. I write for the sinned against and the sanctifying. I write for the ones who clean the toilets and till the soil and walk the picket lines. For the hungry, the caged, the disregarded, the holding on. I write for you. I write because I love sentences and I love freedom more.”

Her other titles include “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry” and “Breathe: A Letter to My Sons.”

Autographed copies of “South to America” will be available for purchase during the lecture.

Perry’s visit is part of the College of Media and Entertainment’s Tom T. Hall Writers Series of lectures. It’s also sponsored by the college’s John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies and by MTSU’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity in the College of Education.

The Tom T. Hall Writers Series celebrates songwriters, authors, poets and screenwriters and offers students, faculty, staff and the public a chance to learn more about the creative process as well as the business end of success.

Previous Hall Writers Series guests have included indie-rock artist and MTSU alumna Julien Baker, country superstar Vince Gill, “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” trilogy author Rebecca Wells, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham, and author and music critic Peter Guralnick.

Along with Perry’s talk, MTSU’s Black History Month schedule includes films, awards presentations, fashion, music, panel discussions, the 27th annual Unity Luncheon, a talk with famed philosopher Cornel West and a keynote address from author, activist and educator Ilyasah Shabazz.

A complete calendar of Black History Month 2023 events at MTSU is available at https://bit.ly/MTBlackHistory2023Calendar. More information on this year’s schedule is available at https://www.mtsu.edu/aahm.

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