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Isabel Wilkerson Books In Order

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Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020)Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Isabel Wilkerson is a literary fiction author who has had a long career as a journalist. Her list of awards has been extensive as she began her career as a student where she was editor in chief of the Howard University paper. She then went on to become the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. She won the prestigious accolade while working for the “New York Times” as their Chicago Bureau Chief. Her work in reporting a ten-year-old boy’s life and the floods of 1993 is what made her beat a strong field of contenders. During her tenure with the “New York Times,” she worked on all manner of topics that included American citizenship, class, and race. Isabel would be flooded by book offers following her win of the Pulitzer and she decided to quit the “New York Times” during the 1990s to start working on her first novel. She had always loved the story of the Great Migration that had influenced the lives and future of the American state. It shaped African American demographics by changing the way they pursued their dreams, as it allowed them to flee to less segregated states in the North. Since the publication of “The Warmth of Other Suns” in 2010, it has gone on to win the Nonfiction National Book Circle Award and made the list of several best-of lists. Wilkerson still get invites to speak about the book that was a 2011 summer reading list lick by former president Barack Obama.

Speaking on the “On Being” podcast by Krista Tippett, Isabel Wilkerson asserted that her parents had been part of the Great Migration. They had made the great trek from Virginia and Georgia and moved to Washington DC. Wilkerson is thus a daughter of parents that fled from the old South of the US, moved to the North, and made a new life for themselves in the capital. By doing that, they left behind part of their identity and took on new personas. Seeking to learn more and understand her identity, she interviewed many people that had been involved in the great movement to the north. She also traveled to South Africa and documented how the country was removing Apartheid monuments. This was akin to the push to remove Confederate statues that brought a lot of controversy in the United States in the recent past. In 1996, she had the unfortunate experience of getting profiled while transiting through an airport. For her work, she has won the 1994 National Association of Black Journalists Journalist of the Year Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the George S. Polk Award. Apart from writing for the “New York Times,” she has been a speaker in demand and gave lectures on narrative nonfiction at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation. He has also been a journalism professor at Boston University, Princeton, Northwestern, and Emory.

With her bestselling and critically acclaimed titles, Isabel Wilkerson has become a public professor. However, it has come at quite the price as she spent more than fifteen years writing her debut novel “The Warmth of Other Suns.” It was the story of the six million African Americans that migrated to the Northern states between 1915 and 1970 in what came to be known as America’s Great Migration. In the novel, she shows her knack for combining the intimate and broad as she explores the great migration through the perspective of three people’s journeys. These three are a Louisiana surgeon, a Florida citrus fruit picker, and a sharecropper’s wife from Mississippi. It was a life-consuming project and Wilkerson had to leave the New York Times to do it. During the writing, she moved to Atlanta and did interviews with more than 1000 descendants of the Great Migration some of whom included her own family. Some of these were her parents and neighbors that had all been unrecognized American immigrants at some point. Most of these people never even bothered with that history as they saw it as just a fact of life. Some of the content that she gleaned from her interviews is echoed in her most popular work to date – “Caste.” In Caste, she shifts gears and compares the racism and caste systems of Nazi Germany and India to that of the United States. Wilkerson also writes intimately about teenage drug dealers in Chicago dealing crack cocaine and how this shaped the community; the troubles of residents of the Gulf Coast after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina; how black characters are represented on TV; challenges in trying to improve the public school system and women on welfare in Chicago.

Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” is the story of the Great Migration of six million people that changed the American landscape forever. The author compares the migration to the other great migrations in history. She got much of her data from official records and data and interviews with 1200 respondents. It shows how the migration of millions of black people changed the US, its cities, and the black people involved in it. She writes with spectacular historical detail following the lives of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. Robert Foster is a man that left his homeland of Louisiana and went on to practice as a doctor in a career that saw him work as a personal doctor to Ray Charles and finally retire at an exuberant home he bought. George Starling is a quick and sharp tempered man that left Florida to go start a new life in Harlem and then endangered himself fighting for civil rights and in the process lost his family but ultimately found peace in spirituality. In 1937, Ida Mae Gladney left prejudice and sharecropping in Mississippi and headed to Chicago to achieve success as a blue-collar worker and then finally voted for Barack Obama who won election to the Illinois senate. Isabel captures the exhausting and treacherous trips crossing the country by train and car and their new lives in the city outskirts that soon became ghettos. She also tells of how they brought southern culture, faith, and food and improved them with hard work, drive, and discipline.

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson is a brilliant novel that is a masterful portrait of the unseen nature of discrimination and racism in the United States. She explores how the US has been plagued by a hidden and rigid hierarchy of human ranking that she calls a caste system. Beyond class and race is a caste system that discriminates just like that of India or the Nazis. Wilkerson analyzes the eight pillars that inform the caste system such as stigma, bloodlines, and divine will that cut across civilizations. She uses riveting stories from prominent people such as Satchel Paige the famous baseball player, Martin Luther King, Jr. Wilkerson also shows how her own experiences have also been impacted by the underlying caste system. She writes of how the Nazi’s made use of the racial systems in the US to plan the discrimination of the Jews. She also writes of injustices that come about from the health costs of caste in life expectancy, depression, and how all this impacts politics and culture. Finally, she suggests ways that the United States can move forward to destroy the destructive but artificial separations and work toward common humanity once again.

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