(BIRMINGHAM. AL)—On Wed., Feb. 1, PEN America presents the final event in its Birmingham Reads Project, a conversation with author and scholar Dr. Imani Perry, whose 2022 National Book Award-winning title, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, has engaged the Birmingham community—Perry’s hometown— in reading one book together for the citywide literary project.

The free event open to the public will take place 6-8 pm at Brown Hall, Miles College (5500 Myron Massey Blvd., Fairfield, AL) featuring a conversation with Perry and two Birmingham-based teaching artists, Tania De’Shawn and Brianna Jordynn Wright. The discussion will be followed by an audience Q&A. Advance registration is required. Media coverage is welcome.

Read full participant bios.

Birmingham Reads launched last summer and engaged over 100 community members in conversations about history, race, music, and culture, according to Alina Stefanescu, PEN Birmingham chapter leader. She said:

“Reading Imani Perry’s essays with others and unpacking the baggage of local history in community allows us to pack for an inclusive future. I marvel at the power of literature to forge radical defiance and hope among strangers in a room. At the heart of Birmingham Reads is the assumption that communities form around the meaning of language—that the way we use words defines the world as we know it. But words also define the way we are known in the world.”

In South to America, Perry, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University, travels to the American South, where she is from, to examine race, culture, politics and identity. The book was recently longlisted  for PEN America’s 2023 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. Finalists will be announced in February and the winners on March 2.

In a review in The New York Times, Tayari Jones wrote that South to America “straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing. Any attempt to classify it only undermines this insightful, ambitious and moving project.”

In accepting the National Book Award for Nonfiction last November, Perry said:

“I write for my people. I write because we children of the lash-scarred, rope-choked, bullet-ridden, desecrated are still here, standing. I write for the sinned-against and the sanctified. I write for the ones who clean the toilets and till the soil and walk the picket lines. For the hungry, the caged, the disregarded, the holding on — I write for you. I write because I love sentences, and I love freedom more.”

She is the author of six previous books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry, which received the 2019 Jacqueline Bograd-Weld Award for Biography from the PEN America Foundation.

Read more about the Birmingham community’s welcome for Perry in Al.com 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057