Tracking the Great Migration
Isabel Wilkerson’s first book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House) 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.
Wilkerson, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize and director of the Narrative Non-fiction Program at COM, spent more than a decade and conducted more than 1,200 interviews in researching The Warmth of Other Suns.
Below are a sampling of reviews of The Warmth of Other Suns.
From The New York Times, Aug. 30, 2010
Ms. Wilkerson makes a case that people who left the South only to create hometown-based communities in new places are more like refugees than migrants: more closely tied to their old friends and families, more apt to form tight expatriate groups, more enduringly attached to the areas they left behind. She argues that these people, among them her Georgia-born mother and Virginia-born father who raised Ms. Wilkerson in Washington, D.C., were better educated and more closely tied to their families than other scholars have assumed. She works on a grand, panoramic scale but also on a very intimate one, since this work of living history boils down to the tenderly told stories of three rural Southerners who immigrated to big cities from their hometowns.
From The New Yorker, Sept. 6, 2010
Wilkerson spoke at length with three dozen people and then chose three, whom she interviewed for hundreds of hours. Her book is the story of those three lives, told, really, as an act of love. She takes her title from a passage in [Richard] Wright’s Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth:
“I was taking a part of the South to transplant in alien soil, to see if it could grow differently, if it could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns, and, perhaps, to bloom.”
And her deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book can be read as an elegant homage to Wright’s “12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United States.
From The Boston Globe, Sept. 21, 2010
Wilkerson herself is a product of the Great Migration. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she knew that her mother came from rural Georgia, but the family never visited there. Her father was southern, too, from Virginia. In D.C., they were surrounded by other folks from the South, but no one ever talked about it. “I think they were putting it behind them,’’ says Wilkerson.