Women’s History Month Spotlight: Imani Perry

Adreon Patterson
3 min readMar 7, 2024

Renowned scholar and writer Imani Perry turned her fascination with race and womanhood into a language for millions to study and acknowledge. Perry’s life began in Birmingham, Alabama. However, her educator mother and doctor stepfather uprooted the family to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Being surrounded by academia led to a young Perry gaining an interest in diverse cultures, regions, and religions. Her perchance for writing and her mother’s academic background led her to attend Yale University, where she received her BA in American Studies and Literature.

Her time at Yale was just the beginning of her academic career. Perry’s fascination with cultures led her to pursue her Ph.D. in American Studies at Harvard University. She continued her Harvard studies by earning her JD. at the prestigious law school. Soon, Perry left Harvard for the halls of Georgetown University, where she obtained her LLM from its law school. After receiving her degrees, the writer began her scholarly career by teaching at Rutgers Law School, where she became a full-time professor and trustee member. At the same time, her law and race studies background allowed her to teach at the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, and her alma mater, Georgetown. Her teaching career at those institutions led to Princeton University naming her Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies, where she spent over a decade.

Perry began putting her cultural and race studies on paper while pursuing an academic career. She penned two books in the early 2000s — one about politics and lyricism in Hip-Hop and another on racial inequality in the US. However, her writings didn’t gain traction until her contribution to 2014’s Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic. She gained more attention for her 2018 Lorraine Hansberry biography Looking for Lorraine, which snagged her the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. She garnered an NAACP Image Award nomination for another publication, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem. However, her 2022 book South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation became her breakout work, becoming a New York Times bestseller and a National Book Award for Nonfiction winner.

Penning books steeped in race and culture weren’t the only instructor’s writing outlet as she began writing for The Atlantic. Perry returned to Harvard in 2023 after leaving Princeton, where she taught interdisciplinary, gender, and African American studies at Harvard Radcliffe Institute. In the same year, she was named one of the MacArthur Fellows.

Imani Perry has used her fascination with culture and race to provide context and solutions. Her words are world-renowned and quoted daily by those in and outside academia. Her studies continue pushing others to think about themselves, others, and the world around them. So, I say, “Ms. Perry, we thank you for moving the conversation forward on serious and relevant subjects.”

Acting like you know everything and acting like you don’t know how to be respectful will keep you ignorant. Be humble.

Imani Perry

Originally published at http://adreonpatterson.net on March 7, 2024.



Adreon Patterson

A multi-faceted creator trying to change the world one word at a time. Check out more at https://adreonpatterson.net