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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration Paperback – October 4, 2011
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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“A landmark piece of nonfiction . . . sure to hold many surprises for readers of any race or experience….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….[Wilkerson’s] closeness with, and profound affection for, her subjects reflect her deep immersion in their stories and allow the reader to share that connection.” —Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“The Warmth of Other Suns is 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
“[A] massive and masterly account of the Great Migration….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, The New York Times Book Review (Cover Review)
“[A] deeply affecting, finely crafted and heroic book. . . .Wilkerson has taken on one of the most important demographic upheavals of the past century—a phenomenon whose dimensions and significance have eluded many a scholar—and told it through the lives of three people no one has ever heard of….This is narrative nonfiction, lyrical and tragic and fatalist. The story exposes; the story moves; the story ends. What Wilkerson urges, finally, isn’t argument at all; it’s compassion. Hush, and listen.” —Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
"The Warmth of Other Suns is epic in its reach and in its structure. Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories, Wilkerson’s book pulls not just the expanse of the migration into focus but its overall impact on politics, literature, music, sports — in the nation and the world."—Lynell George, Los Angeles Times
“One of the most lyrical and important books of the season."—David Shribman, Boston Globe
“[An] extraordinary and evocative work.”—The Washington Post
“Mesmerizing. . .”—Chicago Tribune
“Scholarly but very readable, this book, for all its rigor, is so absorbing, it should come with a caveat: Pick it up only when you can lose yourself entirely.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
"[An] indelible and compulsively readable portrait of race, class, and politics in 20th-century America. History is rarely distilled so finely.” Grade: A —Entertainment Weekly
“An astonishing work. . . . Isabel Wilkerson delivers! . . . With the precision of a surgeon, Wilkerson illuminates the stories of bold, faceless African-Americans who transformed cities and industries with their hard work and determination to provide their children with better lives.” —Essence
“Isabel Wilkerson’s majestic The Warmth of Other Suns shows that not everyone bloomed, but the migrants—Wilkerson prefers to think of them as domestic immigrants—remade the entire country, North and South. It’s a monumental job of writing and reporting that lives up to its subtitle: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” —USA Today
“[A] sweeping history of the Great Migration. . . . The Warmth of Other Suns builds upon such purely academic works to make the migrant experience both accessible and emotionally compelling.” —NPR.org
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a beautifully written, in-depth analysis of what Wilkerson calls “one of the most underreported stories of the 20th century. . . A masterpiece that sheds light on a significant development in our nation’s history.” —The San Jose Mercury News
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a beautifully written book that, once begun, is nearly impossible to put aside. It is an unforgettable combination of tragedy and inspiration, and gripping subject matter and characters in a writing style that grabs the reader on Page 1 and never let’s go. . . . Woven into the tapestry of [three individuals] lives, in prose that is sweet to savor, Wilkerson tells the larger story, the general situation of life in the South for blacks. . . . If you read one only one book about history this year, read this. If you read only one book about African Americans this year, read this. If you read only one book this year, read this.” —The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
"A truly auspicious debut. . . . The author deftly intersperses [her characters'] stories with short vignettes about other individuals and consistently provides the bigger picture without interrupting the flow of the narrative…Wilkerson’s focus on the personal aspect lends her book a markedly different, more accessible tone. Her powerful storytelling style, as well, gives this decades-spanning history a welcome novelistic flavor. An impressive take on the Great Migration." —Kirkus, Starred Review
“[A] magnificent, extensively researched study of the great migration… 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, Starred Review
“Not since Alex Haley’s Roots has there been a history of equal literary quality where the writing surmounts the rhythmic soul of fiction, where the writer’s voice sings a song of redemptive glory as true as Faulkner’s southern cantatas.”—The San Francisco Examiner
“Profound, necessary and an absolute delight to read.” —Toni Morrison
“The Warmth of Other Suns is a sweeping and yet deeply personal tale of America’s hidden 20th century history - the long and difficult trek of Southern blacks to the northern and western cities. This is an epic for all Americans who want to understand the making of our modern nation.” —Tom Brokaw
“A seminal work of narrative nonfiction. . . . You will never forget these people.” —Gay Talese
“With compelling prose and considered analysis, Isabel Wilkerson has given us a landmark portrait of one of the most significant yet little-noted shifts in American history: the migration of African-Americans from the Jim Crow South to the cities of the North and West. It is a complicated tale, with an infinity of implications for questions of race, power, politics, religion, and class—implications that are unfolding even now. This book will be long remembered, and savored.” —Jon Meacham
“Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is an American masterpiece, a stupendous literary success that channels the social sciences as iconic biography in order to tell a vast story of a people's reinvention of itself and of a nation—the first complete history of the Great Black Migration from start to finish, north, east, west.” —David Levering Lewis
“Isabel Wilkerson’s book is a masterful narrative of the rich wisdom and deep courage of a great people. Don’t miss it!” —Cornel West
About the Author
Isabel Wilkerson won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for her reporting as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times. The award made her the first black woman in the history of American journalism to win a Pulitzer Prize and the first African American to win for individual reporting. She won the George Polk Award for her coverage of the Midwest and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for her research into the Great Migration. She has lectured on narrative writing at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has served as Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and as the James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory University. She is currently Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction at Boston University. During the Great Migration, her parents journeyed from Georgia and southern Virginia to Washington, D.C., where she was born and reared. This is her first book.
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The Warmth of Other Suns paints the picture as compellingly and completely as anything I've ever seen or read. As the stories of desperation, ambition and flight unfold, the reader can see just how many ways the American Dream was yanked away, hidden or otherwise made inaccessible to one generation after another. George, for example, could have been so much more than a railroad porter. He wanted to be more. He TRIED to be more. He even went to college at a time when that was all but unheard of for a young black man from the citrus belt of Florida. Danger and deprivation robbed him of that opportunity and all of the possibilities that would have come with it. Instead, he ended up an overworked denizen of substandard housing, with broken knees and bad kidneys from all the years of picking oranges and tangerines then stacking and unloading luggage on railroad runs along the eastern seaboard. Meanwhile, his New York-born-and-raised children -- not privy to the "village" atmosphere of family and child-rearing of George's native Southland -- were left to fend for themselves in the impersonal, take-a-number concrete jungle of an overpopulated city and, with limited options, spent their energies on getting into, or ducking, trouble. The reader can just see the State of Black America take shape.
This is an absolute masterpiece by a virtuoso writer. As I neared the end of it, I got the blues, knowing how much I would miss reading it. So, I did what any right-thinking person would do: I read it again.
Please do yourself a huge favor and read this. It is, simply, amazing.
This book has deeply affected me. Others have reviewed the content, writing style and extensive research. My comments are of a more personal nature.
Until I read this book I would have told you I (a white Southern woman in her 50s) was particularly well-informed about the experience of African Americans, having read almost all of the authors she quoted in the book and many she didn't, including Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and more contemporary authors, having studied the civil rights movement from my armchair and seeking out African American theater, arts, and friends. I was wrong. I was ignorant. I didn't know about the Great Migration. I had picked up bits and pieces of the extent of Jim Crow from my reading, and I had read them from the perspective of someone who wanted to draw from their experience without being, apparently, very curious about the context of it. This book, these stories, opened my eyes by putting the experiences in chronological order and in context. Without ever being maudlin, divisive, or melodramatic, the author struck a tone that allowed the reader, me, to feel the power of these stories. The author did a great service to the people she interviewed and her readers by allowing us to decide how we feel about these stories. She confidently and brilliantly presented them in a matter-of-fact manner and in the exact words of the person describing their own experience, trusting, correctly that their emotional impact would not be missed. By focusing on every day experiences rather than sweeping generalities, the book allowed me to see the insidious and pervasive nature of Jim Crow, how it affected every moment of every day, how no action could be too insignificant to be viewed as a threat to the social order and therefore to involve the risk of one's life. I had no idea that it was illegal for black people to work outside the cotton fields or orange groves, nor did I have any idea it was so dangerous to leave the south. These lives and stories are deeply, deeply affecting. It helped (although it hurt emotionally) to simultaneously read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, a novel about apartheid in South Africa.
I personally thank the author and everyone she interviewed. Deepest gratitude.