The William R. Kenan Jr. Lecture Series


Bestselling author and National Book Award winner Imani Perry

March 2, 2023, 7 p.m.

Interdisciplinary scholar, cultural historian, public intellectual and bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning “South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation,” Imani Perry has garnered accolades for her penetrating insights into the interweaving myths and realities that infuse America’s past and present.

Born just nine years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, Perry was instilled from an early age with a strong instinct for justice and progressive change. The rich interplay between history, race, law and culture continues to inform her work as a critically acclaimed author and the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. Perry’s work reflects the beautiful and deeply complex history of Black thought, art and imagination. It is also informed by her background as a legal historian and her understanding of the racial inequality embedded in American law. 

Her latest book, “South to America,” was an instant New York Times bestseller. It is an essential odyssey through the American South and the way it defines American identity. The book was also longlisted for the 2023 PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. 

In “Breathe: A Letter to My Sons,” Perry explores the terror, grace and beauty of coming of age as a Black person in contemporary America and what it means to parent our children in a persistently unjust world. Conceived as a letter to her young sons, this “uplifting and often lyrical meditation on living” (Booklist, starred review) offers compassion, dignity and resilience as a balm to all Black children facing a world rife with racial hatred. The book was a finalist for the 2020 Chautauqua Prize and a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Nonfiction. 

She is also the author of five other books, including the award-winning biography “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry.” Perry’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, New York Magazine and Harper’s, among other publications. She earned her Ph.D. in American studies from Harvard University, a JD from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center and a BA from Yale College in literature and American studies.

[‘South to America’ is] an elegant meditation on the complexities of the American South — and thus America — by an esteemed daughter of the South and one of the great intellectuals of our time. An inspiration.

Isabel Wilkerson

Engaging, accomplished and illuminating, Imani Perry is a Renaissance threat. Gifted in scholarship and fluid in her expression of complex ideas, she is already one of the nation’s great public intellectuals. She’s the best of best right now.

Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels”

Imani Perry is one of the greatest thinkers of our time.

Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo

If there were one impact I’d like my work to have, it would be that people would cease talking about African American history and culture in terms of deprivation or inadequacy and actually acknowledge its depth and complexity and beauty.

Imani Perry



Brien Lewis

Introduction of the Speaker 

Tate Ohmer 
Transylvania University Student Government Association President

William R. Kenan Jr. Lecture 

Imani Perry

Question and Answer Session

Rebecca Thomas
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the University
Please text questions to ‪(859) 428-7801.

Book purchases and signing will be available in Carrick Theater following the lecture.

You are invited to attend an informal conversation with Perry in Carrick Theater on Friday, March 3, from 10:30‑11:20 a.m.

Recent Kenan Conversations

2022 U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, “Bridging Chasms”

2019 Sir Salman Rushdie, “On Civility”

2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder and Deogratias Niyizonkiza, on the subject of the book “Strength in What Remains”

2017 Claudia Rankine, award-winning poet and National Book Award finalist, “Citizen: An Evening with Claudia Rankine”

2015 Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “Green Capitalism: Why Environmental Policy Equals Good Business Policy”

2014 Ronald Mallett, physicist, “The Real Science of Time Travel,” and Eric Klein, philanthropist, “The Power of One”

2013 Michele Norris, NPR host and special correspondent, author and originator of The Race Card Project, and Peter Bergen, award-winning print and television journalist, educator and author

2012 Ted Nordhaus, co-founder and chairman, Breakthrough Institute, “The Long Death of Environmentalism,” and Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, New York University, “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” 

2011 Randall Kennedy, author and scholar on race and ethnicity, professor of law, Harvard University, “Can We Talk? Problems in Race and Conversation” 

2010 Mary McDonnell, actress, “An Evening with Mary McDonnell,” and Kwame Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy, Princeton University, “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers”

Transylvania University