guide_8551.jpg

Warmth of Other Suns (Wilkerson)

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration
Isabel Wilkerson, 2010
Random House
640 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780679444329


Summary
Winner, 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award
Winner, 2010 Pulitizer Prize

In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America.

Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
 
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard wor

Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—N/A
Where—Washington, D.C., USA
Education—B.A., Howard University
Awards—Pulitizer Prize; George S. Polk Award;
   Journalist of the Year Award from The National
   Association of Black Journalists; National Book
   Critics Circle Award-Nonfiction.
Currently—lives in in Boston, Massachusetts


Isabel Wilkerson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

Born in Washington D.C., she studied journalism at Howard University, becoming editor-in-chief of the college newspaper The Hilltop. During college, Wilkerson interned at many publications, including the The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post.

In 1994, while Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, she became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, winning the feature writing award for her coverage of the 1993 midwestern floods and her profile of a 10-year-old boy who was responsible for his four siblings. Several of Wilkerson's articles are included in the book Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America's Best Writing, 1979 - 2003, edited by David Garlock.

Wilkerson has also won a George S. Polk Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Black Journalists.

She has also held the positions of James M. Cox Professor of Journalism at Emory University, Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and the Kreeger-Wolf endowed lecturer at Northwestern University. She also served as a board member of the National Arts in Journalism Program at Columbia University.

Wilkerson is now a Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction in the College of Communications at Boston University.

After fourteen years of research, she has just released a book called The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, which examines the three geographic routes that were commonly used by African Americans leaving the southern states between 1915 and the 1970s, illustrated through the personal stories of people who took those routes.

During her research for the book, Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,000 people who made the migration from the South to Northern and Western cities. The book almost instantly hit number 11 on the NYT Bestseller list for nonfiction and has since been included in lists of best books of 2010 by many reviewers, including Salon.com, Atlanta Magazine, New Yorker, Washington Post, Economist, and The Daily Beast. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
[A] landmark piece of nonfiction.... [Wilkerson] works on a grand, panoramic scale but also on a very intimate one, since this work of living history boils down to the tenderly told stories of three rural Southerners who immigrated to big cities from their hometowns. She winds up with a mesmerizing book that warrants comparison to The Promised Land, Nicholas Lemann's study of the Great Migration's early phase, and Common Ground, J. Anthony Lukas's great, close-range look at racial strife in Boston.
Janet Maslin - New York Times


[A] massive and masterly account of the Great Migration.... Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today's shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah's couch.
David Oshinsky - New York Times Book Review


A brilliant and stirring epic, the first book to cover the full half-century of the Great Migration.... Wilkerson combines impressive research…with great narrative and literary power. Ms. Wilkerson does for the Great Migration what John Steinbeck did for the Okies in his fiction masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath; she humanizes history, giving it emotional and psychological depth.
John Stauffer - Wall Street Journal


[Its] power arises from its close attention to intimate details in the lives of regular people...if you want to learn about what being a migrant felt like, read Wilkerson. Her intimate portraits convey as no book prior ever has what the migration meant to those who were a part of it. The Warmth of Other Suns stands as a vital contribution to our understanding of the black American experience and of the unstoppable social movement that shaped modern America.
Atlanta Journal Constitution


[Black Southerners] did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island. They were already citizens. But where they came from, they were not treated as such,'' writes Isabel Wilkerson in The Warmth of Other Suns, her sprawling and stunning account of the Great Migration, the 55-year stretch (1915 70) during which 6 million black Americans fled the Jim Crow South. Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, uses the journeys of three of them a Mississippi sharecropper, a Louisiana doctor, and a Florida laborer to etch an indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely.
Entertainment Weekly


(Starred review.) Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.
Publishers Weekly



Discussion Questions
1. The Warmth of Other Suns combines a sweeping historical perspective with vivid intimate portraits of three individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster. What is the value of this dual focus, of shifting between the panoramic and the close-up? In what ways are Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster representative of the millions of other migrants who journeyed from South to North?

2. In many ways The Warmth of Other Suns seeks to tell a new story—about the Great Migration of southern blacks to the north—and to set the record straight about the true significance of that migration. What are the most surprising revelations in the book? What misconceptions does Wilkerson dispel?

3. What were the major economic, social, and historical forces that sparked the Great Migration? Why did blacks leave in such great numbers from 1915 to 1970?

4. What were the most horrifying conditions of Jim Crow South? What instances of racial terrorism stand out most strongly in the book? What daily injustices and humiliations did blacks have to face there?

5. In what ways was the Great Migration of southern blacks similar to other historical migrations? In what important ways was it unique?

6. After being viciously attacked by a mob in Cicero, a suburb of Chicago, Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today” (p. 389). Why were northern working-class whites so hostile to black migrants?

7. Wilkerson quotes Black Boy in which Richard Wright wrote, on arriving in the North: “I had fled one insecurity and embraced another” (p. 242). What unique challenges did black migrants face in the North? How did these challenges affect the lives of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster?

8. Wilkerson points out that the three most influential figures in jazz were all children of the Great Migration: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane. What would American culture look like today if the Great Migration hadn’t happened?

9. What motivated Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster to leave the South? What circumstances and inner drives prompted them to undertake such a difficult and dangerous journey? What would likely have been their fates if they had remained in the South? In what ways did living in the North free them?

10. Near the end of the book, Wilkerson asks: “With all that grew out of the mass movement of people, did the Great Migration achieve the aim of those who willed it? Were the people who left the South—and their families—better off for having done so? Was the loss of what they left behind worth what confronted them in the anonymous cities they fled to?” (p. 528). How does Wilkerson answer these questions?

11. How did the Great Migration change not only the North but also the South? How did the South respond to the mass exodus of cheap black labor?

12. In what ways are current attitudes toward Mexican Americans similar to attitudes toward African Americans expressed by Northerners in The Warmth of Other Suns? For example, the ways working-class Northerners felt that Southern blacks were stealing their jobs.

13. At a neighborhood watch meeting in Chicago’s South Shore, Ida Mae listens to a young state senator named Barack Obama. In what ways is Obama’s presidency a indirect result of the Great Migration?

14. What is the value of Wilkerson basing her research primarily on firsthand, eyewitness accounts, gathered through extensive interviews, of this historical period?

15. Wilkerson writes of her three subjects that “Ida Mae Gladney had the humblest trappings but was perhaps the richest of them all. She had lived the hardest life, been given the least education, seen the worst the South could hurl at her people, and did not let it break her.... Her success was spiritual, perhaps the hardest of all to achieve. And because of that, she was the happiest and lived the longest of them all” (p. 532). What attributes allowed Ida Mae Gladney to achieve this happiness and longevity? In what sense might her life, and the lives of George Starling and Robert Foster as well, serve as models for how to persevere and overcome tremendous difficulties?
(Discussion Questions issued by publisher.)

top of page (summary)

Site by BOOM Boom Supercreative

LitLovers © 2014