February 18, 2011

SIUC hosts Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale welcomes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson as the keynote speaker for Black History Month 2011: The Year of Jubilee.

Wilkerson will discuss the book that earned her the Pulitzer Prize, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” beginning at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 21, in the Lesar Law Building Auditorium. This is a free event.

Wilkerson’s book is an examination of “The Great Migration,” the mass exodus of approximately 6 million black Americans from the American South to the north and west of the country, during a time period roughly from World War I through the 1970s. Wilkerson traced three individuals as examples of the famous and the obscure people who left their homes for the hope of a better life and the American Dream under the “warmth of other suns.”

Her book, released by Random House, Inc. in September 2010, was 15 years in the making. Wilkerson interviewed approximately 1,200 people during her research. The story of how she researched, where she found her interview subjects, is an adventure in itself, one that New York Times book reviewer Charles McGrath described as “a sort of reverse migration.” The book is a long one -- more than 600 pages -- but critics hail it as beautifully written and readable. Just a few weeks ago, the book made the finalist list for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.

Wilkerson is the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize. She also holds a George S. Polk Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Journalist of the Year Award as presented by the National Association of Black Journalists. Much of her journalistic career has been as national correspondent and Chicago bureau chief for the New York Times.