Sudents wearing black graduation robes line up for the Commencement Ceremony at Georgetown University in May with orange flowers in the foreground
Category: News

Title: Imani Perry, Award-Winning Interdisciplinary Scholar, To Speak at 2024 Graduate School Commencement

Author: By Jessica Marr
Date Published: May 7, 2024

Imani Perry, a professor at Harvard University, and Georgetown alumna, will be the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences 2024 commencement speaker at Georgetown University.

Perry is widely known as an interdisciplinary scholar, teacher and thought-provoking writer. She is both a Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, and she serves as the contributing writer for a regular column with The Atlantic, Unsettled Territory.

We invite you to get to know our speaker better as we look forward with anticipation to commencement.

Historian, Advocate and Writer

Imani Perry headshot
Imani Perry

Born in the South, Perry was raised in Birmingham, Alabama and Cambridge, Massachusetts. She earned a double major in literature and American studies from Yale University in 1994 and went on to receive her Ph.D. in American Studies and J.D. at Harvard University in 2000. After completing her doctoral studies, she came to Georgetown University Law Center as a Future Law Scholars Fellow, teaching literature and law, and earned her LL.M. in 2002.

Perry has held teaching and research positions at several prestigious academic institutions, and in fall 2023 was appointed to Harvard University’s faculty as the Henry A. Morss, Jr. and Elisabeth W. Morss Professor of Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality and of African and African American Studies. She was also appointed as the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, a leading center for interdisciplinary research with a longstanding legacy of fostering inclusion for women in education.

The author of eight books, Perry is also the editor of a posthumous collection of Black feminist Ntozake Shange’s unpublished works, Sing A Black Girl’s Song, including poems, essays and plays from throughout the prolific writer’s life. Perry’s book, South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, won the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction. It is rooted in themes of the Black South and community, inviting readers into the lives of those at the margins to find meaning in others’ stories to challenge and inform their own. In her acceptance speech for the award, she emphasized the importance of truth within the act of writing, and that while a primarily solitary act, it was a labor of solidarity within the collective writing community.

Dr. Perry’s scholarship exemplifies the power of a multidisciplinary approach for illuminating difficult truths.

– Alexander Sens, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

“Dr. Perry’s scholarship exemplifies the power of a multidisciplinary approach for illuminating difficult truths,” said Alexander Sens, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “We are delighted and honored that she will return to Georgetown to share her thoughts with our graduating students, and we look forward to recognizing her with an honorary degree.”

Perry actively leans into themes of pop culture and the arts in her writing, as well as political and legal frameworks – and is consistently lauded for it. Her 2018 novel, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, was nominated for the 50th NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. In that same year, her posthumous biography on playwright Lorraine Hansberry was listed as a New York Times notable book and won the 2019 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography and the Lambda Literary Award for LGBTQ Nonfiction, among others.

At the Commencement Ceremony, Perry will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

The Graduate School’s ceremony for graduating students, their families and our community will take place on Friday, May 17, at 9:00 a.m. on Healy Lawn. 

For more information about Commencement weekend, please visit the official Commencement website.