John D. And Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation.

Interdisciplinary scholar and writer Imani Perry ’90 was named a 2023 MacArthur Fellow this fall for giving fresh context to history and the cultural expressions forged by Black Americans in the face of injustice. The MacArthur Foundation awards this prestigious honor each year to a small number of individuals who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future. 

Perry’s writing and scholarship span a range of disciplines, including law, literature, history, philosophy, and popular culture. She has written about the contemporary embrace and transcendence of racial inequality, the concept of patriarchy, the Black national anthem, and the playwright Lorraine Hansberry, among other subjects. 

Her most recent book, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, which won the 2022 National Book Award for nonfiction, combines history, travelogue, and memoir to examine the South’s centrality in defining American culture. 

The October 4, 2023, MacArthur Foundation announcement celebrated her illumination of “rich, dynamic, and often overlooked facets of historical and contemporary culture” and the “insightful connections between individual experiences, complex social obstacles, and emergent cultural expressions” in her “expansive and provocative body of work.” 

“I’m always trying to write in a way that pushes us toward a deeper both recognition of others and reckoning with our history, so that we might actually not replicate injustice,” Perry said in a video the MacArthur Foundation released. She added that her interests “coalesce behind this vision of beloved community, deep human, mutual recognition, and care for the planet and its people.” 

Perry is a Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, and the Henry A. Morss, Jr., and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and of African and African American Studies and co-founder of the Black Teacher Archive at Harvard University. She previously served as the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and before that as a professor of law with Rutgers University School of Law. She is a contributing writer at The Atlantic

Perry has been a Concord Academy trustee since 2019 and was CA’s 2021 Commencement speaker. 

“To me, the most ethical approach that one can take as an intellectual, as an artist, as a scholar, is actually thinking about life from the margins,” Perry said in the MacArthur Foundation video. “At the same time, I consider my work to be an invitation to everyone who is open to encountering lives different than their own and finding something of meaning in them.”

More CA Magazine Stories

Whose Stories Get Told?

Whose Stories Get Told?

We asked three CA alum storytellers working in film and television about their recent projects and why diverse representation matters in their work. Caroline Suh ’89, Ami Boghani ’99, and Eugene Sun Park ’96 share how they create entertainment.