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Fri, 02.10.1961

Isabel Wilkerson, Author, and Journalist born

Isabel Wilkerson

*The birth of Isabel Wilkerson is celebrated on this date in 1961.  She is a Black journalist and author.  

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 Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.  In 1994, while Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times, she became the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, winning the feature writing award for her coverage of the 1993 mid western 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.  Wilkerson has 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 been the 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 and Professor of Journalism and Director of Narrative Nonfiction in the College of Communication at Boston University. She also served as a board member of the National Arts in Journalism Program at Columbia University. 

After fifteen years of research and writing, she published, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, which examines the three geographic routes that were commonly used by Blacks 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 5 on the New York Times Bestseller list for nonfiction and has since been included in lists of best books of 2010 by many reviewers, including "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times," The New Yorker, Amazon.com, Salon.com, The Washington Post, The Economist, Atlanta Magazine, and The Daily Beast. 

In March 2011 the book won the National Book Critics Circle Award (Nonfiction). The book also won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Sidney Hillman Book Prize, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction and was also the nonfiction runner up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2011.  As of 2010, Wilkerson lived in the Virginia Highland neighborhood of Atlanta, and in a New York Times interview, remarked on being a part of a movement on the part of some Blacks to return to the South after generations in the North. 

In 2020, Wilkerson's book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents debates that racial stratification in the United States is best understood as a caste system, akin to those in India and in Nazi Germany.

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