South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation (Hardcover)
“An elegant meditation on the complexities of the American South—and thus of America—by an esteemed daughter of the South and one of the great intellectuals of our time. An inspiration.” —Isabel Wilkerson
A Most Anticipated Book From: The New York Times • TIME • Oprah Daily • Vulture • Essence • Esquire • W Magazine • Atlanta Journal-Constitution • PopSugar • Book Riot • Chicago Review of Books • Electric Literature • Lit Hub
An essential, surprising journey through the history, rituals, and landscapes of the American South—and a revelatory argument for why you must understand the South in order to understand America
We all think we know the South. Even those who have never lived there can rattle off a list of signifiers: the Civil War, Gone with the Wind, the Ku Klux Klan, plantations, football, Jim Crow, slavery. But the idiosyncrasies, dispositions, and habits of the region are stranger and more complex than much of the country tends to acknowledge. In South to America, Imani Perry shows that the meaning of American is inextricably linked with the South, and that our understanding of its history and culture is the key to understanding the nation as a whole.
This is the story of a Black woman and native Alabaman returning to the region she has always called home and considering it with fresh eyes. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives, and surprising encounters with places and people. She renders Southerners from all walks of life with sensitivity and honesty, sharing her thoughts about a troubling history and the ritual humiliations and joys that characterize so much of Southern life.
Weaving together stories of immigrant communities, contemporary artists, exploitative opportunists, enslaved peoples, unsung heroes, her own ancestors, and her lived experiences, Imani Perry crafts a tapestry unlike any other. With uncommon insight and breathtaking clarity, South to America offers an assertion that if we want to build a more humane future for the United States, we must center our concern below the Mason-Dixon Line.
About the Author
Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Perry is the author of Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, winner of the 2019 Bograd-Weld Biography Prize from the Pen America Foundation. She is also the author of Breathe: A Letter to My Sons; Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation; and May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. Perry, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago, lives outside Philadelphia with her two sons.
"In South to America, Perry shows readers that there is no one archetype of the American South, as she considers everything from immigrant communities to the legacy of slavery to her own ancestral roots."
“Provocative, perspective-shifting…. Rendered in exquisite detail…. In this vibrant, revelatory book, Perry proves herself to be a radiant storyteller…like Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Nina Simone before her.”
— Oprah Daily
“Perry is deft and disciplined, her efforts to situate the beauty, oddity, and terror that mark southern life are critical and compelling. As a travel writer, she embraces detours with an eye toward discovery…. Perry asks what it means to be tied to a ‘land of big dreams and bigger lies’ when one is committed to the pursuit of a truth that bursts the nation at its seams.”
“Engrossing…. [Perry] cannily frames her investigation as a travelogue, moving from Appalachia to the Upper South to the Deep South to outliers like Florida and Cuba…. The book’s pleasures are many…. Her vignettes spark off the page…. An immersive read.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Breathtaking…. Extraordinary…. In the realm of Southern letters it has no real antecedent. It is that fresh, that vital, that intellectually supercharged, that incandescent.”
— Garden & Gun
"Perry has a knack for the simple observation that showcases the contradictions Americans endure or ignore."
— Washington Post
"Perry’s seamlessly crafted work is a tour-de-force reckoning."
— Literary Hub
“[Perry] melds memoir, travel narrative, and history in an intimate, penetrating journey through the South…. A graceful, finely crafted examination of America’s racial, cultural, and political identity. Perry always delivers.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[A] saturated, gorgeously written, and keenly revelatory travelogue...Perry's southern tour is intimate and encompassing, finely laced and steely, affecting and transformative.”
— Booklist (starred review)
“South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read.”
— Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy
“In the tradition of native daughters and sons returning home and cataloging the journey, Imani Perry undertakes an exploration of and meditation on the many Souths that make up the American southland. Part pilgrimage, part elegy and clarion call, South to America is wide-ranging, associative and seamlessly woven—an ambitious sweep of history, culture, language. Perry’s intellect is capacious. Moving deftly between registers, she proves to be an insightful and compelling guide."
— Natasha Trethewey, author of Memorial Drive
“An elegant meditation on the complexities of the American South—and thus of America—by an esteemed daughter of the South and one of the great intellectuals of our time. An inspiration.”
— Isabel Wilkerson, New York Times bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
“A rich and imaginative tour of a crucial piece of America.”
— Publishers Weekly
Praise for Breathe
“Breathe is a parent’s unflinching demand, born of inherited trauma and love, for her children’s right simply to be possible.”
— New York Times
“Breathe is what is says it is, a letter from a mother to her sons, but it is more than that. It’s a meditation on child-rearing, world-building, fire-starting, and peace-building. Imani Perry combines rigor and heart, and the result is a magic mirror showing us who we are, how we got here, and who we may become.”
— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
“In Breathe, Perry offers a lyrical meditation that connects a painful, proud history of African American struggle with a clarion call for present-day action to protect, defend, and celebrate the promise of the next generation.”
— Stacey Abrams, founder and chair of Fair Fight Action, Inc.
“Breathe: A Letter to My Sons is deeply cathartic and resonant for parents attempting to raise their children with intention and integrity. Imani Perry shows deep compassion for both parents and children while incisively underlining the realities of raising Black boys in a country that will inherently betray them. It is a book filled with love and insight for difficult times.”
— Tarana Burke
Praise for Looking for Lorraine
“A masterly syntheses of research and analysis.”
— New York Times Book Review
“Looking for Lorraine is phenomenal. I didn’t know how hungry I was for this intimate portrait until now. It feels as though Ms. Hansberry has walked into my living room and sat down beside me. What an honor and joy to read this. The writing is whip-smart, yet lovely and clear-eyed. What gifts this book, Ms. Perry, and Lorraine Hansberry are to the world.”
— Jacqueline Woodson, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and National Book Award Winner for Brown Girl Dreaming
“This is one of those books you need to read. Lorraine Hansberry was so dear, so gifted, so black, so singular in so many ways, that to miss the story of her life is to miss a huge part of ours. She left us way too soon, and yet the gift of her presence, so briefly among us, is still felt in the art she left behind. But not only in the art, but in the life. A life at last made comprehensible by this loving, attentive, thoughtful book.”
— Alice Walker