Author Isabel Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize winner and National Humanities Medal recipient, will deliver this year’s commencement address at Northwestern University.
Wilkerson, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of the nonfiction bestsellers “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.”
She tells the universal human story of migration and reinvention, as well as the unseen hierarchies that have divided us as a nation to find a way to transcend them.
She will receive an honorary degree at the commencement ceremony to be held at 9 a.m. Monday, June 13, at Ryan Field on the Evanston campus.
“Isabel Wilkerson is a truly remarkable author who has been shining a light on our country’s complex history and awakening our national conscience,” said President Morton Schapiro. “I’m thrilled that she will be on hand to inspire our talented graduates as they mark their great achievements here and look ahead to how they might build a better world.”
“The Warmth of Other Suns” (Vintage, 2011) tells the true story of three people among the six million who made the decision of their lives during the Great Migration, a watershed in American history.
Wilkerson spent 15 years working on the book, interviewing more than 1,200 people to tell what she calls one of the greatest underreported stories of the 20th century. The book received numerous awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, and was named to 30 “best of the year” lists.
In conferring Wilkerson the 2015 National Humanities Medal, the National Endowment for the Humanities honored her “for championing the stories of an unsung history. Her masterful combination of intimate human narratives with broader societal trends allows us to measure the epic migration of a people by its vast impact on our nation and on each individual life.”
Wilkerson’s latest book, “Caste” (Random House, 2020), examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how a hierarchy of social divisions still defines our lives today.
Dwight Garner of The New York Times called it “an instant American classic.” Picked as a 2020 must-read book by Time magazine, “Caste” is being adapted into a Netflix film.
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 in the history of American journalism.
She has lectured on narrative nonfiction at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University and has taught at Princeton, Emory and Boston universities.