Clarence E. Cason Award in Nonfiction Writing

Cason Awards

Each year, The University of Alabama honors one recipient with a strong connection to Alabama and whose writings, like those of the award’s namesake, have made a critical contribution to journalism and the literature of the South.

The 2024 Clarence E. Cason Award in Nonfiction Writing

Dr. Imani Perry

Imani Perry, Ph.D.

Acclaimed author, historian and professor

Perry is the Menry A. Morss, Jr., and Elisabeth W. Morss professor of studies of women, gender and sexuality and of African and African American studies at Harvard University and the Carol K. Pforzheimer professor at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Prior to that, she was a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and a professor of law at Rutgers Law School. Pery is a 2023 recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, colloquially known as the “genius grant.” In 2022, Perry receivedd the ational Book Award for Nonfiction for her clitically acclaimed book, South to American: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation, which was a New York Times Best Seller.

Perry earned her Ph.D. in American studies from Harvard University, a JD. from Harvard Law School, an LLM from Georgetown University Law Center and a BA from Yale College in Literature and American Studies.

She is the author of eight books, including 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.

Her book May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem won the 2019 American Studies Association John Hope Franklin Book ward for the best book in American studies, the Hurston Wright Award for Nonfiction and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award in Nonfiction. Her seventh book Breathe: A Letter to My Sons was a finalist for the 2020 Chautauqua Prize and a finalist for the NAACP Image Award for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Perry’s audiobook A Dangerously High Threshold for Pain, which details her life with Lupus and Graves diseasem was named an Audible Best of 2023. In 2023, Perry also edited Sing a Black Girl Sons, a collection of Ntozake Shange’s unpublished works, which was nominated for an Audie Award. She has written numerous essays on art and photography criticism for publications including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Harper’s and Harper’s Bazaar. Her 2022 profile of novelist Gayl Jones for The New York Times Magazine was a finalist for the ASME National Magazine Award.

Perry was born at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, and her first home was in Ensley, Ala. She currently lives between Philadelphia, Pen., and Cambridge, Mas. She is the mother of two young adult sons, Freeman Diallo Perry Rabb and Issa Garner Rabb.

The Cason Tradition

Clarence E. Cason (1896-1935) was the first chair of The University of Alabama’s Department of Journalism, founded in 1928. He brought to the Capstone the highest professional and academic standards. A 1917 graduate of the University, he earned a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin before returning to his alma mater. He wrote for many distinguished newspapers and magazines, a practice he continued as a University of Alabama professor.

Cason argued that universities should educate aspiring journalists to be intellectually and professionally efficient. He wanted the Department of Journalism to participate actively in academic life while elevating its discipline to a respected place among the liberal arts.

Cason enjoyed the respect of professional journalists, who considered him to be one of their own.

Indeed, the crowning achievement of his career, just prior to his death in 1935, was the publication of his book, 90 Degrees in the Shade, in which he looked critically but lovingly at his native state and region. The University of Alabama Press republished the book in 1983.

Thanks to the efforts of the late journalism professor Bailey Thompson, The University of Alabama honors the legacy and spirit of Clarence Cason with its award for distinguished nonfiction writing.

Each year, the University bestows this honor upon a recipient with a strong connection to Alabama and whose writings, like those of the award’s namesake, have made a critical contribution to the journalism and literature of the South.

Past Award Winners


John Sledge


Dennis Covington


Patricia Foster


Harvey Jackson, III


Warren St. John


Frank Sikora


Homer Hickam


Frye Gaillard


Clyde Bolton


Rheta Grimsley Johnson


Roy Hoffman


Hank Klibanoff


Cynthia Tucker


Winston Groom


Wayne Greenshaw


Rick Bragg
Bailey Thompson


Diane McWhorter


Wayne Flynt


Albert Murray


Howell Raines


Edward O. Wilson


Gay Talese