“In the final weeks and months of my completing the manuscript, they spent time and energy researching last-minute questions and leads,” Wilkerson wrote. “Noah and Clay further dedicated themselves to additional weeks of fastidious fact-checking and, by the time the work was done, had taken up the cause of the books as their own.”
“Caste,” which was published on Aug. 4, examines America’s lingering, artificial class system. It was named an Oprah’s Book Club Pick and “an instant American classic” by The New York Times.
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 the award.
She is also the author of The New York Times bestseller “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which focused on a period of American history between the early and mid-1900s, known as The Great Migration, when millions of African Americans moved north and west from the rural South.
Wilkerson was the featured speaker of the Honors College’s Founders Lecture in 2019 and has maintained a relationship with the Honors College community.
Conversations with honors students about her previous book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” led to subsequent conversations about involving them in her next book, Cook said.
“It was thrilling when Wilkerson told me what an impression our students had made on her and that their deep questions about ‘Warmth’ convinced her that they could take on the magnitude of work she needed with utmost care,” Cook said. “And of course, it was even more thrilling to listen to Wilkerson and the students move beyond the research and fact-checking to discussing how they were receiving the book and how they imagined their peers would react.”
Britton, an honors student who graduated in spring 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, said Wilkerson’s “commitment to telling such an important story” and “the depth of her research and her dedication to truth” shaped his view of journalism.
Voytek, a senior majoring in journalism and media entrepreneurship, said he remembers fondly his Friday review meetings with Wilkerson and Cook in the Honors College.
“The conversation could carry for four or five hours,” he said. “The work we were doing immediately began to affect my own thinking, and then it found its way into all of my conversations. I’m beyond grateful to have worked on this project.”
“Being selected to work with Isabel and having the opportunity to assist her in clarifying and fact-checking details within ‘Caste’ was an honor and something that I will always remember,” said Rogers, a senior majoring in political science. “I am privileged to have been a part of such a memorable and landmark book that comes at such a relevant time in our nation’s story.”
In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Wilkerson has received a National Humanities Medal, a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Heartland Prize for Nonfiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Nonfiction, the Lynton History Prize from Harvard and Columbia universities, and the Stephen Ambrose Oral History Prize.