Isabel Wilkerson's new book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story Of America’s Great Migration (Random House) tells the story of the African-American migration from the South to the North and West, from World War I through the 1970s, when many began migrating south again. The NYT calls it "a magisterial new history," and Wilkerson previously won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism as their Chicago bureau chief. She's speaking tonight in Oakland, at a KPFA event at St. Paul's Episcopal Church (7:30 p.m., 114 Montecito Avenue), and SFist got a few words with her about the book, specifically how it relates to African-American communities in the Bay Area.
What got you started researching the migration of African Americans?
Wilkerson: In a way, I've been working on this all my life because I grew up the daughter of people who migrated from the South -- my mother from Georgia, my father from Virginia -- to one of the Migration's first stops, Washington, D.C. There I was surrounded by the people, language, food and culture of the Great Migration. As a national correspondent and Bureau chief at the New York Times, I noticed how the migration affected every city I covered and how the patterns played out along the three main streams -- up the East Coast, up to the Midwest and out to the West Coast. When I read the book, The Joy Luck Club, I identified with the daughters who were negotiating life as the daughters of immigrants, and it sparked in me the similarities between the Great Migration and the journeys and experiences of immigrants to this country, of anyone leaving the only place they've ever known for a place they've never seen in hopes that life will be better.