Isabel Wilkerson is an Atlanta-based journalist.
The Warmth of Other Suns
2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction (The Warmth of Other Suns), 2011 NAACP Image Award, 1994 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Feature Writing
Which one or two American books or plays would you yourself recommend to the foreign leaders?
Tough question. For those outside of the United States, I would recommend anything by Eudora Welty or Toni Morrison to understand the enduring complexities of caste and race in America, as well as the plays of August Wilson and the nonfiction of James Baldwin and Richard Wright for their unsentimental witness-bearing to the plight of those long consigned to the lowest caste in so influential a country. I consider myself to be a writer whose subject area is not race or ethnicity but rather human nature. I chose these books and authors because of the beauty of their art and their unflinching commitment to bearing the truths of the human heart, truths deeply and richly told, that we all might learn from what they have seen in their imaginations.
Who in your childhood—for example, parent or teacher—encouraged you to read books, and which one or two books do you remember most fondly?
My parents, who grew up in the South and migrated to Washington, D.C., where they met and married, had exceedingly high expectations and made sure that I got a library card as soon as I could read, something they had been denied as children in the segregated South. As a young child, I remember reading E.B. White and Astrid Lindgren, but recall losing myself entirely in the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett, which seemed to fit my deeply felt imagination.
Which books by writers of the other G8 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom) have been most important to you as a writer?
Two books from other G8 countries that have greatly affected my own sense of the possibilities as a writer have been Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Ian McEwan's Atonement. Obviously, they are gorgeously written, but what moves me the most are their mastery of the inconsistencies of the human heart and how accurately the portrayals are rendered.