Thursday, May 3, 2012

Isabel Wilkerson, Chronicler of African American Migration, Receives Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award

Isabel Wilkerson, Chronicler of African American Migration, Receives Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The Rutgers Living History Society will present its Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award to Isabel Wilkerson, whose epic history, The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House, 2010), tells the story of the 20th-century migration of African Americans from the south to the north.

The Rutgers Living History Society, comprised of participants in the Rutgers Oral History Archives program, will present the Ambrose Award to Wilkerson at its annual meeting on May 11.

"I am thrilled to receive the Stephen E. Ambrose Award,” Wilkerson said. “I raced against the clock to gather the experiences of people who were part of the Great Migration. I narrowed 1,200 interviews down to three protagonists to bring the story of this mass movement to life before it was too late. This award is validation for the 15 years it took to complete the project, and I am honored and so very grateful to have been chosen as winner of an award that bears the name of one of our country's great historians."

Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson, the former Chicago bureau chief for The New York Times, spent 15 years working on the book and interviewed more than 1,200 people. Eventually, she intertwined a general history of the migration with the personal stories of three people: Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper’s wife from Mississippi; George Swanson Starling, a farm worker from Florida; and Joseph Pershing Foster, a doctor from Louisiana.

Gladney went to Chicago in the 1930s, Starling to New York City in the 1940s and Foster drove from Louisiana to Los Angeles in the 1950s. In researching her book, Wilkerson made the same drive, without stopping to eat or rest in places where, in his time, Foster would not have been allowed to eat or rest.

The Warmth of Other Suns has won several awards and honors, including the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the 2011 Hillman Book Prize, the 2011 Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, the 2011 Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize, the Independent Literary Award for Nonfiction, the Horace Mann Bond Book Award from Harvard University, the NAACP Image Award for best literary debut and was shortlisted for the 2011 Pen-Galbraith Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Wilkerson won the Pulitzer Prize for her work as Chicago bureau chief of The New York Times in 1994, making 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. Wilkerson also won the George Polk Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and she was named Journalist of the Year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Wilkerson has taught at Princeton University and Emory University. She is currently a 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 raised.

In receiving the Ambrose Award, Wilkerson joins historians Michael and Elizabeth Norman, StoryCorps founder Dave Isay; documentarian Ken Burns; journalist Rick Atkinson; the late journalist Studs Terkel; film maker Steven Spielberg; and broadcaster Tom Brokaw. +sookie tex

TEXT and IMAGE CREDIT: Rutgers Today Media Contact: Ken Branson (732) 932-7084, ext. 633 E-mail:

No comments:

Post a Comment