Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Warmth of Other Suns

This past weekend, I had a conversation with my 70-something-year-old grandmother that I'd never had before. We talked about racism (it was there, but she didn't experience as much as her older siblings), whether she'd ever considered leaving Mississippi, and why (no, she's never really been interested), and if any of her siblings had left home to move north (yes, a brother moved to Ohio after having some kind of altercation with a white man).

What prompted the discussion? A meeting and a book.

Two Fridays ago, I had a parent's night out scheduled with the on-post day care center but the hubby was unavailable. And instead of canceling or hitting a movie as I'd done the past two times, I came across something I thought would be interesting. A book discussion and signing at the library. Which leads me to the book.

So far Isabel Wilkerson's book, "The Warmth of Other Suns," is in a word: awesome. In another word - awful. It's not that the book isn't great, it is. And meeting Isabel was even better.

First, the meeting.

I imagine that for an aspiring entertainer, meeting your idol would be amazing. And as a black, female journalist, meeting a black, female journalist that, oh, just so happens to have won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism (the first one, at that!) was amazing. For about an hour, Isabel riveted the couple hundred or so of us gathered in the downstairs auditorium at the Richland County Public Library downtown. She shared with us a few key points about her book, which is a narrative nonfiction about the Great Migration. She kept the tone light; which I think, given the heaviness of the subject matter, which included all manner of atrocities committed under a racist law, was necessary. When it was time for her to sign my book, I'm pretty sure I stood, open gaped, looking at her like a pre-teen thrust suddenly into Justin Bieber's gaze.

For an hour or so, she shared with us a few tidbits from the book that took her 15 years and thousands of interviews to write. Though she never uses the word racism in the book (she refers to it simply as a caste system), the horror stories are some that I have never before heard and never could have imagined.  I have had a hard time making it through some chapters, becoming overwhelmed with emotions as I read the torture endured by some blacks who may have simply done themselves the dishonor of being born so. And to hear the tales of the three highlighted in the book made me wonder about my own family, what our stories were. The couple hundred of us in the audience could probably hear a pin drop as Isabel spoke, sprinkling a bit of humor in her talk to likely keep such a heavy hearted topic as light as possible. and when she finished, she received a standing ovation before we all got in line to wait to have our books signed.  Afterward, I was still on a high, and headed to a Starbucks to sip on a latte and read more of the book.

Even so, I admit I was very much disappointed that there weren't more young folks in the crowd, and by young, I mean 30-somethings, specifically black ones. This very important story, the story of the Great Migration, is one that many of us should of heard from our grandparents, but for some reason or another, didn't.

And this book is a chance for us to know it. 

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