• Article
  • Mar 31 2021

Gaines Center’s Lafayette Seminar to Examine History, Passion Surrounding Anthems

Imani Perry is a scholar of law, literary and cultural studies, and an author of creative nonfiction.

The 2021 Lafayette Seminar in Public Issues presented by the University of Kentucky Gaines Center for the Humanities will explore the passion surrounding anthems. Noted Princeton University scholar and creative nonfiction author Imani Perry will lead the conversation scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, on Zoom.         

Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and a faculty associate with the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Jazz Studies. She is the author of “May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem,” winner of the 2019 American Studies Association John Hope Franklin Book Award for the best book in American Studies, the Hurston Wright Award for Nonfiction, and finalist for an NAACP Image Award in Nonfiction. In “May We Forever Stand,” Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to Black power, and from family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses "Lift Every Voice and Sing" as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.

“This is the culminating event in our year-long exploration of citizenship. Imani Perry’s work in the impact of music on culture and politics is a very fitting way to end,” Gaines Center Director Melynda Price said. “Her work on ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ the Black national anthem, helps us to understand the way music can define and motivate a community to continue in the fight for justice. Her written work is amazing, but the opportunity to engage with this leading voice on race and culture is truly a honor.”

The 2021 Lafayette Seminar featuring Perry is free and open to the public. Pre-registration for this talk is required via Eventbrite at www.eventbrite.com/e/imani-perry-on-anthems-tickets-142561155253?fbclid=IwAR0c-GPXyCkNaGF04ko2UVLrfNQFGsiRHaIoY_tUSdwv9AMYANrHp-SPaCQ.

Perry is the author of six books, including the critically acclaimed “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry,” which received the Pen Bograd-Weld Award for Biography, The Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award for outstanding work in literary scholarship, the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction and the Shilts-Grahn Award for nonfiction from the Publishing Triangle. “Looking for Lorraine” was also named a 2018 notable book by The New York Times and an honor book by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. It was a finalist for the African American Intellectual History Society Paul Murray Book Prize. Perry’s most recent book is: “Breathe: A Letter to My Sons” (Beacon Press, 2019) which was a finalist for the 2020 Chautauqua Prize and a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

A scholar of law, literary and cultural studies, Perry earned her doctorate in American studies from Harvard University, a juris doctor from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center and a bachelor’s degree from Yale College in literature and American studies. Her writing and scholarship primarily focuses on the history of Black thought, art, and imagination crafted in response to, and resistance against, the social, political and legal realities of domination in the West. She seeks to understand the processes of retrenchment after moments of social progress, and how freedom dreams are nevertheless sustained.

Perry’s book “Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation” (Duke University Press 2018) is a work of critical theory that contends with the formation of modern patriarchy at the dawn of capitalism, the transatlantic slave trade, and the age of conquest, and traces it through to the contemporary hypermedia neoliberal age. Her book “More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States” (NYU Press, 2011) is an examination of contemporary practices of racial inequality that are sustained and extended through a broad matrix of cultural habits despite formal declarations of racial equality.

Perry’s forthcoming book under contract with ECCO Press is a narrative journey through the South, arguing that it is the nation’s heartland for better and worse. Future planned projects include an examination of African American theories of law and justice, and a meditation on the color blue in Black life.

Presented annually, the Lafayette Seminar in Public Issues provides an opportunity for Lexington community members, elected officials, and faculty and students to discuss issues facing the community. Previous topics have explored the local economy, town and gown relations, community gardening, university cities, public art and the creation of successful downtown spaces.

For more information on the 2021 Lafayette Seminar, call the Gaines Center at 859-257-1537 or email Associate Director Chelsea Brislin at clbris4@uky.edu.