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April 17th, 2009 at 9:50 am

Jeffrey Perry — A DIY Scholar

Jeffrey PerryThe Princeton Alumni Weekly recently ran a great article on Do-it-yourself scholars. Among the scholars portrayed in the article is Jeffrey Perry author of the acclaimed and recently published biography Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918. Perry’s new book, the first part of a two-part biography, restores Harrison’s important place in African American History and the history of the Harlem Renaissance. The book has earned praise from Cornel West, Arnold Rampersad, Manning Marable, and other prominent scholars.

Perry’s intense research and writing was completed while he worked at the post office and for the Local 300 of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Here is a description of Perry’s work schedule from the article:

The meticulous digging that went into the book — the first volume has 116 pages of footnotes — was done on a hellish schedule. Perry would catch a predawn train into Manhattan from his home in northern New Jersey. He’d come home about 4 p.m., heat up whatever dish his wife, Becky Hom, had prepared for him and their daughter, Perri Hom, and shuttle Perri to soccer games and other after-school activities. In the early evening, his domestic duties done, Perry would sit down at his desk and work late into the night. He used his own money to pay for research trips: to Harrison’s native island of St. Croix; to Denmark, which once owned St. Croix; and to England, among other places.

Perry proudly identifies himself as an “independent scholar,” a rather nebulous term that can signify different things, even to the people who describe themselves as such. Usually, though, it refers to someone who holds an advanced degree and pursues scholarly work — but does it outside the academy. Books by these writers rarely are bestsellers (few scholarly books are), but some have drawn rave reviews in journals and general-interest magazines.

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