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Isabel Wilkerson Wins National Book Critics Award

Professor Isabel Wilkerson just won two of the most prestigious literary awards in the country for The Warmth of Other Suns, her new book tracing the Great Migration. “It’s a tremendous honor and an august moment,” Wilkerson said, upon learning that she had beat other finalists to capture the 37-year-old National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. Wilkerson also won the NAACP Nonfiction Award for a Debut Writer for what critics are calling a “landmark” piece of narrative journalism.

Writes BU Today:

Wilkerson says her volume is “a marriage of both journalism and history,” drawing on both the newspaper and academic sides of her career. “The book began as journalism—I spent more than a year and a half interviewing people just to choose the three main protagonists. It calls upon the skills of journalism, but also ethnography.” Her research became so prodigious and stretched so unforeseeably that none of her protagonists lived to see the book published.

Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 people and plunged into archives for detailed documentary information. She also found unconventional sources, such as eBay, where she picked up a 1937 Illinois Central Railroad map used by some migrants to plot their route.

“The judges’ description of the book as a ‘magisterial work’ is both accurate and extraordinary,” says COM Dean Thomas Fiedler (COM’71). “This honor tells many others around the world what Isabel’s colleagues in COM already know—that she is a master in the field of narrative nonfiction writing and that we’re fortunate to have her heading that program here.”


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