South to America wins National Book Award

That Imani Perry’s South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation just won the National Book Award is no surprise.

It kept me up at night for the weeks I read it, stirring, waking, honoring, and battling with every part of my Southern soul. My American being. My national identity, and my humanity. Which means, to me as a reader and writer both, that because it did this for and to me, it does this outward from me. I underlined, bracketed, starred, exclamation-pointed so many places in this book that when I lend it to friends it will annoy folks. And I can’t begin to choose one or two lines to quote here, because to say Perry mines the depths is too easy; it’d be better to say she takes a Hubble telescope to the galaxy of every bit of the story.

But here are some, because they are hers:

“The only real difference between a farm and a plantation is how it’s used and who uses it, nothing else.”

“Southerners are, generally speaking, both exacting in their judgment and good at alcohol.”

“We tend to think moments of pain provide reckoning. But pleasure might tell us even more. What shows up in the abandon of delight tells us a great deal about who we are, naked.”

“Staying alive on the grounds of your ancestors’ murder and abuse is no small matter. It requires a living witness to their alchemy. Go into a church, find the old woman singing, listen to how her voice, even if cracking, takes up much more space than that to which she has been resigned.”

Read this book.

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