Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she also holds affiliations with law and public affairs, jazz studies, and gender and sexuality studies. A public intellectual and interdisciplinary scholar, Perry has written on a range of topics regarding African American experience, legal history, feminist critique, music, literature, and cultural studies. She is the author of six books and numerous other publications, and her writing regularly appears in national newspapers and magazines.
Perry’s first monograph, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Duke University Press, 2004), situates close readings of lyrics, sound, and performance as vital for understanding hip-hop’s aesthetic and historical complexity during the post-Civil Rights era. Jettisoning a polarized approach to hip-hop that had often characterized debates during the 1990s about hip hop’s alleged “violence” and “commercialization,” Prophets of the Hood instead conceptualizes hip-hop as an artistic culture, a source of knowledge, and as a set of valuable reference points for its communities of fans. In her next monograph, More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York University Press, 2011), Perry draws on her expertise in fields of legal studies and policy analysis, as well her work on vernacular or everyday practices of cultural meaning, in order to rethink ideas about national identity and “post-racialism” in the wake of Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as U.S. President.
Three further books by Imani Perry were published in 2018. May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem (University of North Carolina Press, 2018) provides an in-depth study of one particular song, “Lift E’ry Voice and Sing,” written in the early twentieth century, and often known since as the “Black (or Negro) National Anthem.” Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation (Duke University Press, 2018) analyzes triangulations of gender, race, and modernity in everyday life by unearthing different “iterations of patriarchy” within a range of sites across and beyond the U.S. over the past two centuries. Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry (Beacon Press, 2018) – winner of several prizes, including the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, and the Shilts-Grahn Triangle Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, as well as a New York Times Notable Book of 2018 – offers the first biography in decades of the playwright, writer, and activist Lorraine Hansberry (most famous for her 1959 play, A Raisin in the Sun). Perry’s Looking for Lorraine delves intimately into Hansberry’s rich network of dealings with the Beat poets, radical black figureheads, and the Cold War machinations of the U.S. government. Perry’s sixth book, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, is forthcoming in 2019, also by Beacon Press. Breathe: A Letter to My Sons promises a searing meditation on blackness, parenthood, and coming of age in contemporary America.