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Professor Imani Perry honored with National Book Award

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Professor Imani Perry accepts the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Courtesy of Youtube / National Book Foundation

On Nov. 16, Professor Imani Perry of the Department of African American Studies received the National Book Award for Nonfiction, honoring “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation.”

In the book, Perry draws on the stories, figures, and traditions of the American South to argue that “our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole,” according to the National Book Foundation.


“I write for my people. I write because we children of the lash-scarred, rope-choked, bullet-ridden, desecrated are still here, standing,” Perry said in her acceptance speech after receiving the award. “I write for my children … and for their entire generation who deserves so much better than what we’ve offered them. May they succeed where we have failed.”

Perry also paid homage to her Alabamian roots in her speech, saying “‘Bama’ now has a National Book Award.” She also thanked the University’s Department of African American Studies.

“[T]he Department of African American Studies at Princeton has been a wonderful intellectual community. Working with and being in regular conversation with so many exceptional thinkers in our department has been immensely beneficial to my work as an intellectual, artist and scholar,” Perry wrote to The Daily Princetonian.

The National Book Award is “among the most prestigious literary awards in the world,” according to the New York Times. Previous winners affiliated with the University include Joyce Carol Oates, Professor Emeritus in the Program in Creative Writing.

In “South to America,” Perry said that the region is misunderstood by many. “[Most people] think they know the South’s moves. They believe the region is out of step, off rhythm, lagging behind, stumbling,” she wrote in the book’s introduction. 

Perry describes how the South “has never been a place where there are only two ‘races,’” in reference to Indigenous and Asian communities who live alongside Black and white ones. “The consequence of truncating the South and relegating it to a backwards corner is a misapprehension of its power in American history,” she wrote.


Perry has taught at the University since 2009. This fall, she is teaching two undergraduate courses: AAS 201/PHI 291: African American Studies and the Philosophy of Race and AAS 323/AMS 321: Diversity in Black America. Additionally, she is set to teach a graduate seminar on the African American intellectual tradition next spring, AAS 500. 

Along with her professorship in the African American Studies Department, Perry is a faculty associate in the programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Jazz Studies. She has previously taught a wide array of subjects, including Black feminist theory, international fashion models, and the cultural intersections of Japan and Black America.

Perry has published two other books in her time at the University, most recently “Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation,” a study of the formation of patriarchy as a result of “modernity, the nation-state, the Industrial Revolution, and globalization,” according to the Duke University Press.

“South to America” was also named a Best Book of 2022 by The New Yorker and Time Magazine.

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Editors note: This article has been updated to include comment from Imani Perry. 

Miriam Waldvogel is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ Please send any corrections to corrections[at]