Skip to content

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

Only 3 left!
Save 5% Save 5%
Original price $19.95
Original price $19.95 - Original price $19.95
Original price $19.95
Current price $18.99
$18.99 - $18.99
Current price $18.99
2020 Chautauqua Prize Finalist

2020 NAACP Image Award Nominee - Outstanding Literary Work (Nonfiction)

Best-of Lists: Best Nonfiction Books of 2019 (Kirkus Reviews) · 25 Can't-Miss Books of 2019 (The Undefeated)

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.

ISBN-13: 9780807076552

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Beacon Press

Publication Date: 09-17-2019

Pages: 184

Product Dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Imani Perry, winner of the 2022 National Book Award for Nonfiction for South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she also teaches in the Programs in Law and Public Affairs, and in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She is a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and spent much of her youth in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Chicago. She is the author of several books, including Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry. She lives outside Philadelphia with her two sons, Freeman Diallo Perry Rabb and Issa Garner Rabb. Connect with her on Twitter (@imaniperry).

Reading Group Guide

Questions for book groups reading and discussig Breathe.

1. Perry offers a meditation on race, gender, and the meaning of life through the framing of a letter to her sons. Why do you think she chooses to directly speak to her sons? What is the importance of this point of view?

2. Before beginning her letter, Perry notes the complexity of raising Black boys in the US, and she uses several metaphors to describe potential approaches: like cultivating diamonds, using coal for fuel or consolation Christmas gifts, covering her home in sacrificial blood, and stalking through a labyrinth while avoiding a minotaur (2). What approach does each metaphor entail, and what examples of each does Perry provide in her letter?

3. “George Washington’s false teeth were not wood, as you may have heard. They were actually made from a variety of materials, including Black humans’ teeth. The father of our country stole our teeth,” writes Perry (112). In this passage, what argument is Perry making about US history?

4. Over the course of Breathe, Perry raises the topic of home on several occasions. She tells her sons about their “ancestral home” (21) in the Deep South and their roots in West Africa; she details her usage of words like “finda” and “siditty” with those who remind her of her home in Alabama (76); and she notes her sons’ physical separation from Black communities that act as a secondary home for her (31). How would you define home, according to Perry? What similarities or differences does it share with your own definition of home?

5. How does Perry talk about death and its impact on many Black lives in the US? How is this embodied in her discussion of her late uncle, Boot (60)?

6. After discussing To Kill a Mockingbird with Freeman, Perry’s opinions on the novel and its characters change (68). Has your own view on To Kill a Mockingbird shifted after reading Freeman and Perry’s critique? Has someone close to you changed the way you felt about something you held dear?

7. After detailing the history of foot-binding, Perry urges Freeman and Issa to “Be careful to what you are bound.” (107) What does Perry seem bound to?

8. Why does Perry assert that children understand love and fairness better than adults (14)?

9. Perry highlights the duality of being Black in America early in the book. She tells her sons that in order to combat the racism that surrounds them, “I teach you to read well. I teach you second sight—the word and also its meaning” (11). What do you think Perry means by “second sight”? What are some examples she gives to Freeman and Issa?

10. What sentences from the book personally resonated with you—and why? Are there any particular passages from Breathe that challenged you or expanded your thinking?

Table of Contents