The Warmth of Other Suns

by October 12, 2017

Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994.

In the tradition of works by Taylor Branch and J. Anthony Lukas, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story Of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson, the first African-American Woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism, chronicles a watershed event in American history–the decades-long migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West, from World War I through the 1970s—through the stories of three individuals and their families.

Over a decade in the writing and research, and drawing on archival materials and over 1,200 interviews, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS traces the lives of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, from their difficult beginnings in the South, to their critical decisions to leave behind all they know and look for a better life in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.

Because the Great Migration was so vast and unfolded over many decades, it has received very little attention on a national scale and it is perhaps one of the greatest underreported stories of the twentieth century. These migrants were silent actors in racial and social change in this country. They weren’t the ones leading the marches or perhaps even marching at all. They were the ones who were quietly forced to leave an arbitrary and arcane culture in the South. They were survivors of a brutal era who didn’t benefit from the Civil Rights Movement or even their own personal sacrifices. Yet, some of these migrants, as well as their children and grandchildren, would go on to become among the most influential people in the country: Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Michelle Obama, August Wilson, Denzel Washington, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Thelonious Monk, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jackson, Prince, Tupac Shakur, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X, to name but a few.

This extraordinary book is a universal story of longing, loss and hope — people leaving one isolated land for the dream of a better life in more fertile soil. As with The Greatest Generation, theirs are stories of adventure and courage and, with the generations of people of the Great Migration passing away, this was perhaps the last chance to capture their lives before it was too late. THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS will stand as a classic of narrative journalism and of modern American history, on a par with works by Diane McWhorter, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Robert Caro.

The Epic Story Of America’s Great Migration

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. The story of the great migration told through in-depth descriptions of three families.

Non-fiction. By Isabel Wilkerson. 2010. 640 pages.
Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 – 1944, 20th Century
Reading Levels: Adult, High School

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Presented by Professor and Pulitzer-prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson. This is the tenth lecture in the 2011 GRCC Race and Ethnicity Conference.

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About the Author: 
Isabel Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in 1994, making her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African-American to win for individual reporting. Wilkerson also won a George Polk Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her research into the Great Migration, and she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists. She has lectured on narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor at Emory University. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. During the Great Migration, her parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and reared. This is her first book.

“[Wilkerson’s] powerful storytelling style…gives this decades-­‐spanning history a welcome novelistic flavor. An impressive take on the Great Migration, and a truly auspicious debut.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“[A] magnificent, extensively researched study of the “great migration… The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Profound, necessary and an absolute delight to read.”
―Toni Morrison

“Isabel Wilkerson’s book is a masterful narrative of the rich wisdom and deep courage
of a great people. Don’t miss it!”
―Cornel West

“The Warmth of Other Suns is a sweeping and yet deeply personal tale of America’s hidden 20th century history -­‐ the long and difficult trek of Southern blacks to the northern and western cities. This is an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation.”
―Tom Brokaw

“A seminal work of narrative nonfiction…You will never forget these people.”
―Gay Talese

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