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Wilkerson aces literary debut

  • Written by Pearl Washington

Isabel Wilkerson should be writing history textbooks. Not with the dry boring tone of such tomes, but with the sharp, personable turn of her pen that produced “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

Isabel Wilkerson should be writing history textbooks. Not with the dry boring tone of such tomes, but with the sharp, personable turn of her pen that produced “The Warmth of Other Suns.”

 
 Isabel
Wilkerson

The Great Migration, which Wilkerson brilliantly documents and chronicles, took place from 1915 to 1970 when millions of African Americans boarded trains and cars to leave the brutal racism that characterized the South. They left seeking the economic prosperity and peace that was the siren call of the northern and western states, where they met a different type of challenge. Undoubtedly, anything was better than the South, where whites were not even punished for killing blacks.

Perhaps it is the way that Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, approaches her topic, setting the stage with the introduction of three people whom we come to know and care deeply about, as we are pulled along on these intimate journeys that begin with their births.

As an instructor, my first love has long been teaching students how to master the English language. But my heart can always be stolen by history. This book not only stole my heart, but also answered questions about my own family – family lore aside – that have always been just beyond answering: So that’s why all my maternal great aunts and their families lived “up North!”

But as with Ida Mae Gladney (left Mississippi for Chicago in 1937), George Starling (left Florida for New York in 1945), and Robert Foster (left Louisiana for California in 1953), there is so much more to the story. Wilkerson recreates the routes of these three and we are there during the joys and the sorrows of their upbringing, their loves, their losses, all of their lives, literally from the beginning to the end. We are there as they escape and as they arrive. We are there because of Wilkerson’s writing. It is haunting, exact, explicit and revealing.

Hard to believe this is her first book. It is so well written that I immediately took to social networking media to spread the word. And once I was done, I couldn’t wait to find someone with whom to share this book.

Even though I received “The Warmth of Other Suns” as a Christmas gift, it had to wait its turn; I was already involved with a novel. But once I got around to it, there was no turning back.

Knowing about great events is often not enough; you had to have been there. If that is not possible, read Isabel Wilkerson’s account.


 

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