“Take Leap of Faith Into The Unknown”
Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, recently published The Warmth of Other Suns to great critical acclaim. It is her first such work, and it details the migration of some 6 million black Americans from the South to the north and west of America from the period after World War I to the 1970s. The focus may be specific but the result is a work that people from all over the world can relate to. I had the chance to ask Wilkerson a few quick questions about her work.
IJF2012: What was the most fun part of writing this book for you?
IW: Oh, you know it was really getting to know these people. The people are amazing people. They are funny; they have a great sense of humor. They are beautifully imperfect. You learn a lot from them. It’s like sitting down with your favorite grandmother and having her tell you stories, I mean that’s really what it was, and I just enjoyed spending time with them so much, I can’t say enough about that.
IJF2012: You speak about the migrant advantage in your book. Most Americans are descended from immigrants. Do you think that pioneering spirit is still alive?
IW: You know I really do believe that that migrant advantage, meaning the willingness to take a risk, to be adventurous, to be able to turn away from all that they’ve known, even with great sacrifice, to take this great leap of faith into the unknown. It means that there’s still something really different really about them and their children, because they pass it on to their children. And I really believe that that’s one of the reasons why the United States ends up being this leader in technology and in a lot of the arts and culture, because people have within them the spirit of taking over a risk, risking everything for this belief in something. Having a belief that all these wires and metal will turn into a computer or an ipod, or an iphone. There’s something about that spirit that pervades the culture and I think that’s why the reason United States is the way it is.
IJF2012: Italians fleeing the economic crisis in Italy is a current topic in the press and at the festival. So after having been in Perugia and experiencing how beautiful it is, do you think if you were Italian, could you ever see yourself leaving?
IW: Well you see you’re asking someone who’s a daughter of people who left, which means that maybe congenitally, it runs through my veins the idea that if it’s necessary I probably would be one of those who would be willing to leave. That said it’s beautiful and now that I see how beautiful it is I see how hard it is to imagine anyone leaving. But both my parents left where they were from. When I got out of college I left where they had migrated to start my career. I went where I needed to go to fulfill my own destiny. Wherever that destiny leads me is where I’d be willing to go.
IJF2012: And my last question is: do you have any advice for aspiring journalists?
IW: My advice for aspiring journalists is that the world is really competitive because of the technology that now allows us to reach people in ways that we never could before. That said, technology has always been at the forefront of change. Now when the radio comes in people wonder, well what happened to newspapers? Television comes, in people wondered what’s going to happen to radio. And now I think that we have options to tell the same story in a number of different ways. So my suggestion and what I actually practice is that without the story you have nothing. So you have to your mind set and focused on the story itself and not get sidetracked by the technology. Recognize that technology is a tool that we use to tell the stories better.
Secondly if a person is serious about going into journalism they have to really want to do it badly. Because there is so much competition. And those who are willing to put in the hours and to give it their all are the ones who are going to succeed. Journalists are now like musicians and artists where we have a lot of competition. And there will always be people who find jobs in acting. There will always be people who find jobs in music. And there will always be people who find jobs in journalism. But you have to be focused on the story, and want it badly.