WINNER OF THE 2022 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“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
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.
A Recommended Read from: The New Yorker • The New York Times • TIME • Oprah Daily • USA Today • Vulture • Essence • Esquire • W Magazine • Atlanta Journal-Constitution • PopSugar • Book Riot • Chicago Review of Books • Electric Literature • Lit Hub
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Imani Perry’s dazzling nonfiction book explores the heritage and identity of the American South. Perry, a celebrated author and professor of African American studies at Princeton University, travels throughout the South, from the predominantly white Appalachias to the cotton-rich Black Belt, reflecting on the deep complexities of this historically divided region. Taking us through key historical events—from the Wilmington white supremacist insurrection in 1898 all the way to the death of Trayvon Martin—Perry writes about each location, each story, and each time period with incredible detail and care, infusing her essays with personal memories from her own Alabama childhood. Broad in scope but intimate in its telling, South to America is a captivating love letter to the South in all its beautiful, battered glory.
Perry (Looking for Lorraine), a professor of African American studies at Princeton, interweaves personal and regional history in this impressionistic study of the American South. Adding depth and nuance to standard portrayals of "lost cause" narratives of white supremacy, Perry highlights moments of "resistance to the slave-based society." During a visit to Harper's Ferry, W.Va., she notes that the state, which seceded from Virginia in 1861 to remain with the Union, is "foundationally anti-slavery," and cites examples of how Appalachia has nurtured Black educational excellence, including the interracial Highlander Folk School. Elsewhere, Perry delves into North Carolina's history of racial trauma, including the 1898 white supremacist uprising in Wilmington and the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case, and, in an enlightening discussion with art collector Walter Evans, considers Low Country architecture, the Muhammad Ali Joe Frazier rivalry, and the effects of desegregation on Black cultural networks. Perry's meditations range far and wide, alluding to literary theorists, basketball stars, Supreme Court rulings, and her own ancestors with equal familiarity and insight, though the breadth often comes at the expense of depth, particularly when she is relating historical events, such as abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper's Ferry. Still, this is a rich and imaginative tour of a crucial piece of America.