Imani Perry, a contributing writer to The Atlantic, has won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for her book South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation. Melding the language of poetry and historical research, Perry sought to understand the South, the region where she was born and which contains, she believes, the key to understanding America. As she wrote in The Atlantic, the South is “both an idea and a region,” and one she says she has been obsessed with since her birth. She visited more than a dozen Southern cities with an eye toward finding the hidden horrors of their history but also the many acts of resistance that return humanity to the American story.
“I write for my people,” Perry said as she accepted the award. “I write because we children of the lash-scarred, rope-choked, bullet-ridden, desecrated are still here, standing.”
Perry is a professor of African American studies at Princeton who has written a number of books about the Black experience. At The Atlantic, her newsletter, Unsettled Territory, has primarily become a place to do what Perry calls “rootwork,” examining America’s history to better understand the present. But she has also delved into every corner of our contemporary culture, recently examining what her Twitter account means to her, and Americans’ fascination with royalty.
Here is a collection of some of those Atlantic newsletter editions and articles, as a way to begin diving into her rich and varied writing.
- In the summer of 2020, during the George Floyd protests, Perry wrote about seeing the beauty and not just the pain in Black identity
- A reflection on André Leon Talley, Eartha Kitt, and going home
- A list of eight books that help explain the South
- Reading Richard Wright’s previously unpublished novel changed the way Perry understood the writer
- An argument for reclaiming and holding on to the language of struggle in the face of their appropriation by forces on the right
- An examination of what Perry calls the “prickly” nature of the Black literary tradition
- Thoughts on Thanksgiving and connecting Perry’s nostalgia about ham to the biblical “curse of ham”