Journalist Isabel Wilkerson (http://isabelwilkerson.com/)’s non-fiction book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration is the twenty-fourth and current “One Book, One Chicago” selection. Past selections include Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín; The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City by Carl Smith; The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros; The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe; The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1888-1959); The Crucible by Arthur Miller (1915-2005); A Mercy by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison; Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; The Adventures of Augie March by Nobel laureate Saul Bellow (1915-2005); Gold Boy, Emerald Girl by Yiyun Li; and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak .
“One Book, One Chicago” is presented by the City of Chicago, the Chicago Public Library (CPL), the Chicago Public Library Foundation, and sponsors Allstate and BMO Harris. On Monday, March 11, 2013 Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPL Commissioner Brian Bannon, and CPL Board President Linda Johnson Rice announced a major expansion of the CPL’s “One Book, One Chicago” program and the choice of The Warmth of Other Suns as the next selection in the CPL’s nationally recognized, award-winning, citywide book club.
From that point forward, the CPL will now host a year-long discussion of one book and its ideas, an expansion from the month-long programs offered twice a year since the series started twelve years ago. Beginning this April and continuing into the spring 2014, the CPL and its many community partners will host a series of events each month, all exploring the theme of migration and how it has shaped—and continues to shape—Chicago.
“Isabel Wilkerson’s book brings to life the stories of African Americans who left their homes in the South in search of a better life. These are the stories of people who helped create the Chicago we know today—and of people continuing to come to our city each day in hopes of finding their dream,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Each of us has a story to tell about our family’s path to Chicago and how we all helped to make Chicago the most American of American cities.”
Ms. Wilkerson’s book focuses on three people. Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife, went from Mississippi to Chicago with her family after a cousin was nearly beaten to death after being accused of stealing a White man’s turkeys.
George Swanson Starling, a college student and citrus picker in Florida fled to New York City after he learnt he was in danger of being lynched for his labor union-organizing activities. Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a surgeon, moved from Louisiana to California because he could not stand the fact he could practice medicine in the U.S. Army but would not be permitted to perform a tonsillectomy at the hospital in his home town.
Random House stated, “In the tradition of works by Taylor Branch and J. Anthony Lukas, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story Of America’s Great Migration… chronicles a watershed event in American history--the decades-long migration of African-Americans from the South to the North and West, from World War I through the 1970s—through the stories of three individuals and their families.”
Over a decade in the writing and research, and drawing on archival materials and over 1,200 interviews, THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS traces the lives of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster, from their difficult beginnings in the South, to their critical decisions to leave behind all they know and look for a better life in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles.
Because the Great Migration was so vast and unfolded over many decades, it has received very little attention on a national scale and it is perhaps one of the greatest underreported stories of the twentieth century. These migrants were silent actors in racial and social change in this country. They weren’t the ones leading the marches or perhaps even marching at all. They were the ones who were quietly forced to leave an arbitrary and arcane culture in the South. They were survivors of a brutal era who didn’t benefit from the Civil Rights Movement or even their own personal sacrifices. Yet, some of these migrants, as well as their children and grandchildren, would go on to become among the most influential people in the country: Oprah Winfrey, Toni Morrison, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Michelle Obama, August Wilson, Denzel Washington, Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Thelonious Monk, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jackson, Prince, Tupac Shakur, James Baldwin, and Malcolm X, to name but a few.
This extraordinary book is a universal story of longing, loss and hope -- people leaving one isolated land for the dream of a better life in more fertile soil. As with The Greatest Generation, theirs are stories of adventure and courage and, with the generations of people of the Great Migration passing away, this was perhaps the last chance to capture their lives before it was too late. THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS will stand as a classic of narrative journalism and of modern American history, on a par with works by Diane McWhorter, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Robert Caro.
The Warmth of Other Suns garnered Ms. Wilkerson the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the 2011 Lynton History Prize from Harvard University and Columbia University, the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Hillman Book Prize, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize, the Independent Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Horace Mann Bond Book Award from Harvard University, the New England Book Award for Nonfiction, the Hurston Wright Legacy Award for Nonfiction, and the NAACP Image Award for best literary debut. It was also shortlisted for the 2011 Pen-Galbraith Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.
The judges of the Lynton History Prize, conferred by Harvard and Columbia, stated, “Wilkerson has created a brilliant and innovative paradox: the intimate epic. At its smallest scale, this towering work rests on a trio of unforgettable biographies, lives as humble as they were heroic… In different decades and for different reasons they headed north and west, along with millions of fellow travelers. . . In powerful, lyrical prose that combines the historian’s rigor with the novelist’s empathy, Wilkerson’s book changes our understanding of the Great Migration and indeed of the modern United States.”
Ms. Wilkerson spent most of her career as a national correspondent and Chicago Bureau chief for The New York Times. In 1994, Ms. Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times in the Journalism category of Feature Writing. Columbia University states she won, “For her profile of a fourth-grader from Chicago's South Side and for two stories reporting on the Midwestern flood of 1993.”
Gay Talese, the dean of literary journalists, who also entered the literary scene working for The New York Times, praised The Warmth of Other Suns as “A seminal work of narrative nonfiction…You will never forget these people.”
In 1998, under the auspices of the Library of Congress, the Seattle Public Library’s Washington Center for the Book initiated the "One Book, One Community" (OBOC) projects. The librarian who conceived of project "If All Seattle Read The Same Book," Nancy Pearl is something of a celebrity. By 2007, the Library of Congress listed 404 of these "One Book, One City" (sometimes called "One City, One Book") programs.
In the fall of 2001, Mayor Richard M. Daley started "One Book, One Chicago" with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Over 6,500 library patrons borrowed copies of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
This included the circulation of 350 foreign language copies. The success of this initiative led to the adoption of To Kill a Mockingbird by over fifty "One Book, One City" programs across the country, and it has remained the most popular book.
To celebrate the selection of the tenth book in the "One Book, One Chicago" program, and the 5th anniversary of the program, the CPL mounted the exhibit One Book, Many Interpretations, which ran from September 30, 2006 to April 15, 2007. Nearly fifty bookbinders and artists from around the world contributed to the exhibition.