Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson discusses book at Quinnipiac

Jenna Doleh

Quinnipiac hosted Pulitzer Prize winner and former national correspondent for The New York Times Isabel Wilkerson for a presentation of her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” on Monday at Burt Kahn Court.

“The Warmth of Other Suns,” an account of the Great Migration, was selected as one of 2010’s 10 Best Books of the Year by her former employer, The New York Times. She focused on telling the story of 1915 to 1970 in American history when six million African Americans fled the south, by recounting the pasts of three migrants who each represent a different decade and destination.

“My goal in writing this book is to try and make [the Great Migration] come alive,” Wilkerson said. “We are all here on this soil because our ancestors made the choice to make this great sacrifice.”

Wilkerson said she interviewed more than 1,200 people in approximately 12 years to find her three main characters.

“The interviewing process was quite natural,” Wilkerson said. “I wanted to find three delightfully imperfect people like most people would be.”

According to the author, many people who Americans have come to know and love would not have been able to be in the spotlight if it were not for the Great Migration. She gave examples, such as Michael Jackson, Snoop Dogg, and Diana Ross, whose parents all migrated from the South during the period of the Great Migration.

“I want to make everyone aware of the power of individual decision,” Wilkerson said.  “These people who migrated freed themselves by their decision to leave.  There needs to be more awareness.”

Burt Kahn was packed with students and faculty during Wilkerson’s speech.  Those in attendance seemed highly engaged in hearing Wilkerson’s message.

“I never knew much about the great migration before this speech, and I was surprised at how much I absorbed in such little time,” sophomore Nathalie Donaldson said. “There were so many things [Isabel Wilkerson] touched on that people take completely for granted, and still don’t realize today what made them possible. I was a lot more affected by what she said than I expected to be, and I fully plan on reading her book.”

During the Great Migration, Wilkerson’s parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and raised. “The Warmth of Other Suns” is her first book.

“I hope you all are as inspired as I am by the Great Migration,” Wilkerson said.  “It really is such an empowering idea.”