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Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

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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. Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity. She admits fear and frustration for her African American son 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. Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity. She admits fear and frustration for her African American sons in a society that is increasingly racist and at times seems irredeemable. However, as a mother, feminist, writer, and intellectual, Perry offers an unfettered expression of love--finding beauty and possibility in life--and she exhorts her children and their peers to find the courage to chart their own paths and find steady footing and inspiration in Black tradition. Perry draws upon the ideas of figures such as James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Emily Dickinson, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ida B. Wells. She shares vulnerabilities and insight from her own life and from encounters in places as varied as the West Side of Chicago; Birmingham, Alabama; and New England prep schools. With original art for the cover by Ekua Holmes, Breathe offers a broader meditation on race, gender, and the meaning of a life well lived and is also an unforgettable lesson in Black resistance and resilience.


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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. Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity. She admits fear and frustration for her African American son 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. Emotionally raw and deeply reflective, Imani Perry issues an unflinching challenge to society to see Black children as deserving of humanity. She admits fear and frustration for her African American sons in a society that is increasingly racist and at times seems irredeemable. However, as a mother, feminist, writer, and intellectual, Perry offers an unfettered expression of love--finding beauty and possibility in life--and she exhorts her children and their peers to find the courage to chart their own paths and find steady footing and inspiration in Black tradition. Perry draws upon the ideas of figures such as James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Emily Dickinson, Toni Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ida B. Wells. She shares vulnerabilities and insight from her own life and from encounters in places as varied as the West Side of Chicago; Birmingham, Alabama; and New England prep schools. With original art for the cover by Ekua Holmes, Breathe offers a broader meditation on race, gender, and the meaning of a life well lived and is also an unforgettable lesson in Black resistance and resilience.

30 review for Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

  1. 4 out of 5

    Andre

    Beautifully rendered both in prose and wisdom. I found many parallels here to my own thinking. I can easily relate being a parent. Imani Perry uses delicate cultured prose to write to her two sons, and in the process manages to give them family history, her hopes, desires, dreams and even her fears as they navigate this thing called life. What ends up between the pages is a beautiful document of stressing their worth and how to hold onto that and always see themselves, even when others may refus Beautifully rendered both in prose and wisdom. I found many parallels here to my own thinking. I can easily relate being a parent. Imani Perry uses delicate cultured prose to write to her two sons, and in the process manages to give them family history, her hopes, desires, dreams and even her fears as they navigate this thing called life. What ends up between the pages is a beautiful document of stressing their worth and how to hold onto that and always see themselves, even when others may refuse not too. Although this is a slim volume, the punch and impact are huge and wide enough to encompass and inspire all readers. You don’t have to be a parent to understand the notability of what Ms. Perry is expressing here. She is showing vulnerability and managing to keep honesty as a constant and consistent presence on the page. She knows the power of America to devour Black children and specifically Black boys of which she has two. “…..you are Black in America, which means rage is your familiar, even if you haven’t called it that yet. What I mean is, by virtue of where you live and go to school, and the possibility and comfort that are so often in your reach, you are not up close to the full weight of what Black life in America often is.” I found myself just highlighting an abundance of her sentences, as I’m certain most readers will do the same. The quality of this book is worthy of a warm embrace and space on your bookshelf. It is a book you will return to often, in search of eloquent ways to phrase a sentence or to express an idea you are having trouble putting in writing. “And yet, you cannot rely on certain expectations as Black people. You cannot say to yourself: If I do A, B, and C, then D will happen. It just doesn’t work that way. What you put in may not have its just reward. But maybe it will. So, you have to have an inside thermometer, or better yet a barometer, of who you want to be and how well you are doing. Am I running hot or cold? Or am I in my pocket? In my bag? In my feelings? You already have it; it is the headstrong thing that sometimes puts people off. It is your necessary armor.” The rearing of children is no easy task, and when you have to deliver the harsh truths, it is that much more difficult. I share her conclusion for what is included in a good life, “Some leisure. Nourishment, adequate rest. A sense of purpose, which is a wildly variant thing, thank God. I want you to understand that is more than enough. It is everything. And yet, and of course this is easier for me to teach, I also want you to keep your vast imaginations, be wanderlustful for life. Passion is my preferred disposition, under a placid surface. Be hungry.” Indeed, be hungry for great books, and this one will satiate your appetite.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

    As the title states, Breath is a letter to the author's young sons. It is a celebration of their beauty, their gifts, and the love of their mother for them as well as the bonds of the family, including and importantly extended family as well. It is also the outcry of a mother who knows her children are facing a world hostile to them as men of color and a call to them to retain their integrity, their creativity, and their joy of living and loving despite the dangers that surround them. As the title states, Breath is a letter to the author's young sons. It is a celebration of their beauty, their gifts, and the love of their mother for them as well as the bonds of the family, including and importantly extended family as well. It is also the outcry of a mother who knows her children are facing a world hostile to them as men of color and a call to them to retain their integrity, their creativity, and their joy of living and loving despite the dangers that surround them. Perry, who also wrote an outstanding biography of Lorraine Hansberry (Looking for Lorraine), is a powerful writer. There were times her book made me want to cry both from the passion of her love and pain at some of the twisted values of our country, the needless hatred and violence we see daily. Perry is eloquent about these dangers but never forgets to celebrate her sons' love for live, unique qualities, and the lives they are creating. Perry converys her hopes and dreams for the men they will become. Although worldly success is nice (and Perry, as well as her family, has an impressive C.V.--Harvard degrees, a professorship at Yale, a number of published books), she is most concerned with who they are as humans and what they value. For her, love of family, honoring others, human relationships are the heart of what it means to be successful in life. In addition to her stories about her sons, her descriptions of them and their lives, Perry also provides a background to their lives. She believes that we neither come into the world alone nor do we live as isolated units. Family is important, place is important. Perry has deep roots to the south as well as to the midwest. She shares stories of her own life, obstacles she has faced, joys she has experienced. She celebrates the lives of her parents, grandparents and other ancestors and includes close friends, mentors, and even those we have admired and learned from as part of that important family. We do not go through this life alone, nor should we. The author also tells her sons of where she feels she has not been the mother she would like to be and the ways in which they can thrive despite that. She appreciates the ways in which they are different from her as much as in the things they share. She admires their individual talents and ideas and ways of being in the world. As a part of her gift to her sons, Perry shares much autobiographical information that I found fascinating. Her prose is beautiful and often inspiring. I found myself constantly underlining passages. She is an original and brilliant thinker who cares deeply about how to live in this world and how to share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences with each other. Like her, I deeply value and love books. Perry's love of reading reinforces her love of life and opens her always to new paths. The book gives great pleasure because of the vibrancy of Perry's love for her sons, as well as her passion for life, for experience, for people, books, learning--everything it seems. Perry is full of energy and enthusiasm, which seem to support her as she makes a life within a difficult culture in difficult times. This is a book I would like to reread. I felt my spirit uplifted by this letter. Perry is an inspiration not only to mothers but to all people who want to live a meaningful life. This book is a gift to us as well as her sons and a joy to read. I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing.com. My thoughts and opinions are my own. I am grateful to the author and publisher as well as LibraryThing for the opportunity to read this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joshunda Sanders

    This gorgeous book is a prayer or a mantra. It is the second book of Dr.Perry’s that I have inhaled this year, and its maternal, ethereal poetry is a balm for these times. It is authentic testimony on behalf of herself and her ancestors and ourselves and our ancestors of what it looks like to hold babies with tenderness in a world that believes that Black children are never new or babies or deserving of tenderness and care. What I do appreciate about Breathe is its tenderness, truly a reflection This gorgeous book is a prayer or a mantra. It is the second book of Dr.Perry’s that I have inhaled this year, and its maternal, ethereal poetry is a balm for these times. It is authentic testimony on behalf of herself and her ancestors and ourselves and our ancestors of what it looks like to hold babies with tenderness in a world that believes that Black children are never new or babies or deserving of tenderness and care. What I do appreciate about Breathe is its tenderness, truly a reflection of Dr.Perry’s care for her children but also for the inner children of Black people who have maybe never had so skilled a storyteller and scholar peer into their beautiful brown eyes and tell them they are not only seen and loved but valuable and valued.

  4. 4 out of 5

    James Klagge

    A wide-ranging view of life articulated and shared. The only observation I'll share is...it is interesting that her (Catholic) Christianity is important to her but she makes almost no effort to share it with her sons. I can see intellectually why one might want one's children to "decide for themselves"...but since religion is as much a practice as a belief, and it is gained as much by osmosis as by instruction, no exposure (to speak of) leaves one somewhat unprepared to engage with religion late A wide-ranging view of life articulated and shared. The only observation I'll share is...it is interesting that her (Catholic) Christianity is important to her but she makes almost no effort to share it with her sons. I can see intellectually why one might want one's children to "decide for themselves"...but since religion is as much a practice as a belief, and it is gained as much by osmosis as by instruction, no exposure (to speak of) leaves one somewhat unprepared to engage with religion later in life. She does emphasize the heritage for her sons that comes from the generations that went before, but she doesn't emphasize the importance, indeed often the necessity, of religion to those previous generations. Mightn't carrying on the work of past generations require, or benefit from, the very thing that she holds back? So her treatment of religion felt somewhat puzzling to me. Well worth reading--certainly by Black mothers of sons, but as well by all who look after and look to the next generations.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eric Brown

    One of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in years.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kimberley

    If you've read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, you will appreciate the perspective of Imani Perry in Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. Where Coates was contemplative in describing the effects of having grown up in a system designed for his failure and prosecution--on the way he approaches the fathering of his son--Perry is urgent in conveying that, though the world was not built to accommodate her son's Blackness, their Blackness is no less beautiful...even if the world wants to conve If you've read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, you will appreciate the perspective of Imani Perry in Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. Where Coates was contemplative in describing the effects of having grown up in a system designed for his failure and prosecution--on the way he approaches the fathering of his son--Perry is urgent in conveying that, though the world was not built to accommodate her son's Blackness, their Blackness is no less beautiful...even if the world wants to convey otherwise. There are fingers itching to have a reason to cage or even slaughter you. My God, what hate for beauty this world breeds. They say they are afraid. I do not believe it is fear. It is bloodlust I am a mother. I have a daughter and a son. Both are Black and far too close--for my own comfort--to becoming independent parts of this stilted world; my faith in humanity is tested every time I turn on the news, listen to the radio, or simply scroll my Instagram feed so I understand the place of fear and resignation Perry speaks. It's frustrating to bear witness to the plethora of ways Blackness is devalued but see people attempt to invalidate those injustices. Instead of asking the right questions, they choose to assign blame to the victim and ask how you could've stopped *insert injustice here* from happening. As if the power to do so has ever belonged to you. As an adult, you're able to see the inequities, and have the ability to articulate them to others but you know that won't matter. The hopelessness, anger, and overall impotence that causes is heartrending and, when you add the fact of your own children soon being forced to traverse those same channels...well...it hits different. No matter how "just so" I have tried, and often failed, to make things, I have known from the very first day of each of your lives that I cannot guarantee your safety. That is what the voyeurs want to drink in. That is why they make me so mad...Because the truth is it is frightening. . Despite the despair and fear, though, it's clear Perry has a sliver of hope that her sons will find their way. And while she wants them to be aware of how their Blackness will color, confuse, and complicate their place within the world, she doesn't want them to be so defined by the world's ignorance they fail to become who they're capable of being. The routes have always been rough. West Africa to Barbados to South Carolina. Maryland to Alabama. To Chicago from Mississippi. By boat, by train, by foot, each time an unsteady cruelty. You, revenant, must learn to possess an impeccable balance. Claim your earth as you see fit and ride above it Imani Perry has offered the world a proclamation--in the form of this "letter"--and I suspect her sons are not the only children for whom her words will be of value. I enjoyed this thoroughly and recommend it highly. *Thank you to Edelweiss+ for this Advanced eGalley. Opinion is my own and was not influenced.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Judi

    I received this ARC for free from the publisher. The following is my unbiased review. I am not African American and I have never lived in a community that could be called diverse. I doubt I fall in the book's target demographic. But I am a mother and, like Perry, have hopes and dreams for my children. Perry's "letter" to her sons touched me in many ways. And, as I expected, there were parts of the text that I couldn't relate to and/or understand. Our shared love for our kids opened me I received this ARC for free from the publisher. The following is my unbiased review. I am not African American and I have never lived in a community that could be called diverse. I doubt I fall in the book's target demographic. But I am a mother and, like Perry, have hopes and dreams for my children. Perry's "letter" to her sons touched me in many ways. And, as I expected, there were parts of the text that I couldn't relate to and/or understand. Our shared love for our kids opened me to consider how those un-understandable sections are the gates to a deeper appreciation for those of whom I know too little. One section relating broken glass to broken hearts was notably beautiful to me. It ends: "The shards of heartbreak cannot simply be thrown away. They have to be reworked. This requires a careful examination, a tender holding. Of whoever is broken, whether it is you or someone else." I can relate to this in my heart. These words, in particular, bring me closer to Perry and I become more interested in what joins us together. This book is not a call to action. There are no instructions on how to "solve" our racial challenges. But, as you read Perry's words to her sons you can be inspired to do more or do differently in an effort to build a more positive global community.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tre’ Mason

    I received this book from the author a few weeks back. The book was phenomenal. As someone who plans to have kids in the future I fear for my sons. I fear that they will have to grow up fast in a world that will not understand how precious are due to the preconceived notions America has place on them. Imani Perry does a great job of acknowledging every mother’s fear for their children as well as acknowledging how precious Black children are. Thank you Imani Perry!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tricia Sean

    This book spoke to me so deeply. Although the words were from a mother to her sons, I (a dad of 3 daughters) could totally feel so much of what she was saying. I want my children to definitely know their time isn't the only time...that they stand on the shoulders of an amazing legacy. I want to raise them conscious of the world that begat them and their ancestors, but shaping them with a mind for the world they dream to create. Imani seems to have given her children the tool and compass to do th This book spoke to me so deeply. Although the words were from a mother to her sons, I (a dad of 3 daughters) could totally feel so much of what she was saying. I want my children to definitely know their time isn't the only time...that they stand on the shoulders of an amazing legacy. I want to raise them conscious of the world that begat them and their ancestors, but shaping them with a mind for the world they dream to create. Imani seems to have given her children the tool and compass to do that. Any and every parent can get so much from this book, especially African American parents. Perry is an amazing writer, who lived up to the hype. Thank you Goodreads for this giveaway! I will be reading all of her previous works.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    This deeply personal open letter lays out the myriad of emotions that Perry feels as the mother of two Black sons. She treasures them and all their little idiosyncrasies, yet also frets over whether these same quirks and talents will be celebrated in a society that, more often than not, labels Black boys and men as dangerous. This isn't just a letter to them, but also an exploration of their roots and the hopes she has for them as they grow increasingly into themselves. It's also a reflection on This deeply personal open letter lays out the myriad of emotions that Perry feels as the mother of two Black sons. She treasures them and all their little idiosyncrasies, yet also frets over whether these same quirks and talents will be celebrated in a society that, more often than not, labels Black boys and men as dangerous. This isn't just a letter to them, but also an exploration of their roots and the hopes she has for them as they grow increasingly into themselves. It's also a reflection on her own self and the many intertwined histories that lead to the present. Informative and intimate, we are lucky Perry allowed us all to briefly visit her love for her children.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Josephine Ensign

    A female/maternal companion to Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Between the World and Me" was how I envisioned this book. As such, and since I loved Coates' letter to his son, I expected to love this book as well. While there were a few sections that I did like--especially when she writes of her own childhood--I was disappointed with it overall.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    Exceedingly beautiful. While this may be a letter to Dr. Perry's sons it is really an ode to her Blackness, Southerness, and womanness. It is evident that Perry's dominance as a legal scholar informs her eloquence as a literary force. I would recommend this a million times over to Black mothers, Blackness, race, or really to anyone interested in the human experience. Exquisite.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    GOOD BOOK.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nohemi

    What an incredibly brilliant and gifted writer. Read this book and become a better human being.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I need some time to gather my thoughts, but every time I read Perry’s work I am awed...and a bit intimidated, but mostly awed. Full review to come.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Beautiful.

  17. 4 out of 5

    kasia

    This is an absolutely stunning meditation on parenting, race, gender, and resilience. I want to buy a copy for everyone I know, but most especially for every mother of Black sons.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Julie Giehl

    Would highly recommend. A short read with beautiful proses.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alice

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kori

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jen Sloan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jena

  24. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chris MacDonald-Dennis

  26. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Y

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marta

  28. 5 out of 5

    Josh Cayetano

  29. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carol

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