Birmingham Reads: A City-Wide Read Kickoff Event

Birmingham Reads

Join us at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as we kick off the citywide read of South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry.

The PEN America Birmingham Chapter‘s Birmingham Reads program is delighted to invite you to its interactive, in-person kickoff event to celebrate Birmingham native Imani Perry’s evocative mediation on the America South.  

This event is the first in a series of forthcoming events within the Birmingham Reads Project, a citywide literary initiative dedicated to engaging and uniting Birmingham community members in reading one book of fiction or nonfiction in one given year and then discussing it in book groups and at events throughout the city. This year’s selection, South to America, is a sprawling and ambitious book that brings together the perspective of a distinguished historian and the personal narrative of a native-born southerner to better understand the beauty, tragedy, and soul of this country.

Aligning with the content and theme of the book, the kickoff event will feature poetry readings by Ashley M. Jones, Alina Stefanescu, and Keimaya Downey. African drumming and dance will be presented by Sahi On Ko Djony, and the Ursula Smith Dance Company will lead a book-inspired dancing workshop for all attendees. This event is a celebration of the rich and diverse culture created by Black and southern people, which built American life as we know it.

Please note: You don’t have to have read South to America to enjoy this dynamic and interactive event. 


Sahi On Ko DjonySahi On Ko Djony is a West African Cultural Enrichment Program that exposes its participants to the magical charisma of dance, drumming, and folklore. Their Mission Statement is to Learn, Preserve, and Present West African Dance, Drumming, and Folklore!

headshot of Ursula Smith“To dance with destiny is to live in purpose” is the mantra that Ursula lives by. Ursula Smith has an overwhelming passion to use dance as a source of inspiration, education, and communication for people of all ages. Ursula has 20 years of dance experience and has been mentored by and studied various dance forms under Laura Garrigues, Jomo Xulu, Abdel Salaam, Theodore Jamison, Dr. Joan Burroughs, Mama Nahgerees, Melvin Blak, and Darlene Cockrell.

headshot of Keimaya DowneyBirmingham, Alabama native with a butterfly spirit, Keimaya Downey considers herself a blooming woman “getting to the roots,” aka figuring out who she is and how she’s intended to show up in this world. Self-expression and individualization have always been near and dear to her heart. Keimaya grew up using style/fashion as well as writing as forms of showcasing who she was/am. Naturally reserved and introverted, she’s always used her creative gifts and interests to say the things that just felt too daunting to say directly. She made her statement without having to say much at all. As a writer, poet, author, photographer, digital storyteller, and overall creative, her goal is to use her talents and skills to help other people bring the statements they’d like to make to life—authentically, intentionally, and purposefully. Keimaya’s work is where authenticity, artistry, and aesthetics meet.

Ashley M. Jones is the Poet Laureate of Alabama and the author of three award-winning poetry collections, most recently REPARATIONS NOW! (Hub City Press, 2021). Among her honors are those by the PEN/Voelker Prize for Poetry, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the National Poetry Series, the New York Times, BBC, and the Independent Publishers Book Awards. Jones is the founding director of the Magic City Poetry Festival and co-director of PEN Birmingham. She teaches creative writing at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and for Converse University’s Low Residency MFA Program.

headshot of Alina StefanescuAlina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, her first poetry chapbook Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the 2016 Award for Poetry Book of the Year from ASPS. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Prize and was published in May 2018. Her writing can be found in diverse journals, including Prairie Schooner, North American Review, FLOCK, Southern Humanities Review, Crab Creek Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Virga, Whale Road Review, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes, President of Alabama State Poetry Society, Board Member for the Alabama Writer’s Conclave, Co-Founder of 100,000 Poets for Change Birmingham, and proud board member of Magic City Poetry Festival. Her poetry collection, Defect/or, was a finalist for 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. A finalist for the 2019 Kurt Brown AWP Prize, the 2019 Greg Grummer Poetry Prize, the 2019 Frank McCourt Prize, and the 2019 Streetlight Magazine Poetry Contest, Alina won the 2019 River Heron Poetry Prize. She loves to collaborate across mediums and be the poem she wants to read in the world.

Birmingham Reads Kickoff

This project was made possible by: 

In partnership with:

PEN Across America Birmingham chapter logo THEATRE. ACADEMY. STUDIO