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Isabel Wilkerson

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Isabel Wilkerson
Isabel Wilkerson at the 2010 Texas Book Festival
Wilkerson at the 2010 Texas Book Festival
Born1961 (age 62–63)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
OccupationJournalist, author
EducationHoward University (BA)
GenreJournalism, History
Notable worksThe Warmth of Other Suns
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Notable awardsGeorge S. Polk Award
Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing
Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists
National Book Critics Circle Award (Nonfiction)
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award

Isabel Wilkerson (born 1961) is an American journalist and the author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010) and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020). She is the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.[1]

Wilkerson was the editor-in-chief of the Howard University college newspaper, interned at the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post, and became the Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times. She also taught at Emory University, Princeton University, Northwestern University, and Boston University.

Wilkerson interviewed over a thousand people for The Warmth of Other Suns, which documents the stories of African Americans who migrated to northern and western cities during the 20th century. Her book Caste describes the racial hierarchy in the United States as a caste system. Both books were best-sellers.

Early life and education


Isabel Wilkerson was born in Washington, D.C. in 1961 to parents who left Virginia during the Great Migration. Her father, Oscar Lawton Wilkerson, was one of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and became a bridge engineer after the war.[2]

Wilkerson studied journalism at Howard University, becoming editor-in-chief of the college newspaper The Hilltop. During college, she interned at publications including the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.[3]



In 1994, while the Chicago Bureau Chief of The New York Times, she became the first woman of African-American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism,[1] 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.[4] Several of Wilkerson's articles are included in the book Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America's Best Writing, 1979 - 2003, edited by David Garlock.

She has 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 at Boston University's College of Communication. She also served as a board member of the National Arts in Journalism Program at Columbia University.[3][5]

External videos
video icon Q&A interview with Isabel Wilkerson on The Warmth of Other Suns, September 26, 2010, C-SPAN

After fifteen years of research and writing, she published The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration[6] in 2010, 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.[7] 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.[8][9][10][11][12][13] In March 2011 the book won the National Book Critics Circle Award (Nonfiction). The book won the Anisfield-Wolf Award[14] for Nonfiction, the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Sidney Hillman Book Prize, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction and was the nonfiction runner-up for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2011.

In a 2010 New York Times interview, Wilkerson described herself as being part of a movement of African Americans who have chosen to return to the South after generations in the North.[15]

Wilkerson's book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents argues that racial stratification in the United States is best understood as a caste system, akin to those in India and in Nazi Germany.[16] A 2020 review in The New York Times described it as "an instant American classic and almost certainly the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far."[16] Publishers Weekly called Caste a "powerful and extraordinarily timely social history."[17]The Chicago Tribune wrote that the book was "among the year's best" books.[18] The book peaked at number one on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list.[19] On October 14, 2020, Netflix announced Ava DuVernay will write, direct, and produce a feature film adaptation of Caste.[20]

Personal life


Wilkerson has been married twice. She married Roderick Jeffrey Watts in Fort Washington, Maryland in 1989.[21] Her second husband, Brett Kelly Hamilton, died in 2015 after being ill for some time.[22]




  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (Random House, 2010). ISBN 978-0-679-44432-9
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020). ISBN 978-0-593-23025-1

Essays, columns and lectures

  • The New American Reader: Recent Periodical Essays, edited by Gilbert H. Muller (McGraw-Hill, 1997)
  • "He Put a Spin on Design", in The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells : a Celebration of Unusual Lives, edited by Marvin Siegel (William Morrow, 1997)
  • "Superstars of Dreamland", in Best American Movie Writing, edited by George Plimpton (St. Martin's Press, 1998)
  • We Americans: Celebrating a Nation, Its People and Its Past, edited by Thomas B. Allen and Charles O. Hyman (National Geographic Society, 1999)
  • "Two Boys, a Debt, a Gun, a Victim: The Face of Violence", in Writing the World: Reading and Writing about Issues of the Day, edited by Charles R. Cooper, Susan Peck MacDonald (Macmillan, 2000). ISBN 0-312-26008-3
  • Written into History: Pulitzer Prize Reporting of the Twentieth Century, edited by Anthony Lewis (Times Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2001)
  • "First Born, Fast Grown: The Manful Life of Nicholas, 10", in Feature Writing for Newspapers and Magazines: The Pursuit of Excellence, edited by Edward Jay Friedlander and John Lee (HarperCollins College Publishers, 1997); and The Princeton Anthology of Writing, edited by John McPhee and Carol Rigolot (Princeton University Press, 2001)
  • Various articles, Pulitzer Prize Feature Stories: America's Best Writing, 1979 - 2003, edited by David Garlock (Iowa State University Press, 1998; Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd edition, April 18, 2003)
  • "Interviewing Sources", Spring 2002 Nieman Narrative Journalism Conference Report
  • "Angela Whitiker's Climb", in Class Matters, by correspondents of The New York Times (Times Books, 2005)
  • "Interviewing: Accelerated Intimacy", in Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call (Plume Penguin Books, January 30, 2007)
  • "America's Enduring Caste System" (cover story of The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2020)[23]



Wilkerson has also been awarded honorary doctorates from several universities:



In 2023, Ava DuVernay filmed Origin, a biographical drama about Wilkerson and the writing of her book Caste. Aunjanue Ellis played the leading role.


  1. ^ a b "30 Moments in Journalism". NABJ. Archived from the original on October 6, 2008. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  2. ^ "Racism' Did Not Seem Sufficient.' Author Isabel Wilkerson on the American Caste System". Time. July 23, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Emory University Education Program". Emory University. Archived from the original on December 2, 2008. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  4. ^ "First Born, Fast Grown: The Manful Life of Nicholas, 10 (April 4, 1993)" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved June 18, 2008.
  5. ^ "Isabel Wilkerson, Director, Narrative Nonfiction Program". Boston University. Archived from the original on December 5, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  6. ^ The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration, Random House official website.
  7. ^ "Great Migration: The African-American Exodus North". National Public Radio. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  8. ^ Teresa Weaver. "The Shelf: Top Ten of 2010". Atlanta Magazine. Archived from the original on December 6, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  9. ^ Laura Miller. "The best nonfiction books of 2010". Salon.com. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  10. ^ "A Year's Reading: Reviewers' favorites from 2010". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  11. ^ "Books of the Year: Page turners". The Economist. December 2, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  12. ^ "Best nonfiction of 2010". The Washington Post. December 10, 2010. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  13. ^ "The Best of the Best Books 2010". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  14. ^ "Home". Anisfield-Wolf. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  15. ^ McGrath, Charles (September 8, 2010). Charles McGrath, "A Writer's Long Journey to Trace the Great Migration", The New York Times.
  16. ^ a b Garner, Dwight (July 31, 2020). "Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Is an 'Instant American Classic' About Our Abiding Sin". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Nonfiction book review: Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents". Publishers Weekly.
  18. ^ Borrelli, Christopher (August 3, 2020). "Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' is about the strict lines that keep us apart — lines that are more than race or class". Chicago Tribune.
  19. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction - Best Sellers". The New York Times. November 1, 2020. Retrieved October 22, 2020.
  20. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (October 14, 2020). "Ava DuVernay Back In Director's Chair For 'Caste'; Netflix Adaptation Of Acclaimed Isabel Wilkerson's Best Seller". Deadline. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  21. ^ "Ms. Wilkerson And R. J. Watts Wed in Maryland". The New York Times. November 13, 1989 – via NYTimes.com.
  22. ^ "Caste Author Isabel Wilkerson Will Change The Way You See The World". Vogue.co.uk. September 6, 2023.
  23. ^ Wilkerson, Isabel (July 1, 2020). "America's Enduring Caste System". NYT Magazine. Retrieved July 15, 2020. As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power — which groups have it and which do not.
  24. ^ "Isabel Wilkerson of The New York Times". pulitzer.org. 1994. Retrieved July 15, 2020. For her profile of a fourth-grader from Chicago's South Side and for two stories reporting on the Midwestern flood of 1993.
  25. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Isabel Wilkerson". Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  26. ^ "Isabel Wilkerson". The National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved November 18, 2020.
  27. ^ Pineda, Dorany (April 17, 2021). "Winners of the 2020 L.A. Times Book Prizes announced". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  28. ^ Past Honorary Degree Recipients - Saint Paul
  29. ^ "DePaul to Honor Array of Luminaries at 2011 Commencement Ceremonies".
  30. ^ "Niagara University 2011".
  31. ^ "Howard Alumna Isabel Wilkerson Receives Inaugural NYU/Axinn Foundation Prize".
  32. ^ "2013: Pulitzer Prize Winner and Nobel Prize Winner Highlight Honorary Degree Recipients at Muhlenberg | Muhlenberg College". Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  33. ^ "Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson - SMU".
  34. ^ "Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson is Commencement 2014 speaker, joining honorands John Seely Brown, Glenn Close and David Shaw". April 21, 2014.
  35. ^ "Class of 2018 Celebrates Commencement | Middlebury News and Announcements". May 27, 2018.
  36. ^ "Commencement Program 2022" (PDF). smith.edu. Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  37. ^ "At Commencement, Students Empowered to Make Change - Colby News". Retrieved August 12, 2023.
  38. ^ "Isabel Wilkerson named Commencement speaker".
  39. ^ "Isabel Wilkerson Addresses Class of 2023 at Commencement". May 26, 2023.