Friday, May 16, 2014

Author Isabel Wilkerson to keynote this year’s Opening General Session

"They did not cross the turnstiles of customs at Ellis Island, they were already citizens. But where they came from they were not treated as such."

Those are words written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson in the best-selling nonfiction book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.” The book — appropriately described as “epic” by many reviewers — chronicles the story of black migration out of the American South, better known in history books as the Great Migration. Wilkerson tells the story of the millions who left in search of better lives through the experiences of three black Americans: a sharecropper who left Mississippi for Chicago; a surgeon who left Louisiana for Los Angeles; and a young man who fled Florida for New York after hearing that his employers were planning to lynch him for organizing fellow citrus pickers in support of better working conditions. All three stories are woven into Wilkerson’s account of the Great Migration and how it shaped our country and communities. 

Wilkerson will talk about her experience putting together the 640-page book during her keynote speech at this year’s Opening General Session in New Orleans. According to Wilkerson’s website, the book is the “story of how the northern cities came to be, of the music and culture that might not have existed had the people not left, the consequences North and South and, most importantly, of the courageous souls who dared to leave everything they knew for the hope of something better.” For public health practitioners, the underlying intersections between the book’s themes and the work of public health are sure to jumpstart some interesting discussions and are undoubtedly relevant to this year’s Annual Meeting theme of “Healthography: How Where You Live Affects Your Health and Well-Being.”

“The Warmth of Other Suns” was named to more than 30 best-of-the-year lists, including those in the New Yorker, Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post. Wilkerson also received the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize and the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, among many others. 

At this point, many of you may be thinking about reading the award-winning book before the November Annual Meeting. If that’s the case, why not join the club? “The Warmth of Other Suns” will be the focus of APHA’s first-ever Annual Meeting Book Club, which will gather in New Orleans to discuss the book and how it relates to today’s big public health issues. Sign up to join the Annual Meeting Book Club, which officially kicks off in August, and check back with the Annual Meeting site for upcoming details. Also, consider purchasing your copy of “The Warmth of Other Suns” through AmazonSmile, which will donate a percentage of your purchase to support APHA.

This year’s Opening General Session is Sunday, Nov. 16, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

P.S. Mark your calendars, public health people! Registration and housing for this year’s APHA Annual Meeting opens June 3!

Wilkerson photo courtesy Joe Henson

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