Isabel Wilkerson: “I wish we could see more books about the inner lives of everyday people.”

From a New York Times “By the Book” interview with Isabel Wilkerson:

Isabel Wilkerson: Author and Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist.

What books are on your nightstand?

I have years of catching up to do. I am especially looking forward to reading “The Sympathizer,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Washington Black,” by Esi Edugyan, and “The Vanishing Half,” by Brit Bennett.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

We are in the midst of a golden age of Black intellectual abundance at the precise moment we most need these voices, and it stresses me out to even attempt to name the many whom I admire. I would include Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, Adam Serwer, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Saeed Jones, Tracy K. Smith, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Brent Staples, Karen Attiah and Yamiche Alcindor. And I must add the historians: Ibram X. Kendi, Daina Ramey Berry, Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Blair L. M. Kelley, Carol Anderson and Stephanie Jones-Rogers.

Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?

I wish we could see more books about the inner lives of everyday people from marginalized groups in our country — not the extremes of either celebrity or pathology, but just regular working folks who make up, for instance, the great bulk of African-Americans. People just going about their days and getting through the challenges of ordinary life do not get anywhere near the attention they deserve in the popular imagination. And their invisibility leads to distortions in how an entire group is seen, gives the impression that people from across the racial divide are more fundamentally different than we actually are. Two of the most gorgeous examples that come to mind for me are Toni Morrison’s “Jazz” and Rita Dove’s “Thomas and Beulah,” both of which elevate the ordinary to the sublime.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which genres do you avoid?

I find myself drawn to classic, often underappreciated, novels of the 1930s and 1940s, to works like “The Street,” by Ann Petry, who is deservedly experiencing a renaissance, “If He Hollers, Let Him Go,” by Chester Himes, who deserves his own renaissance, and “Black No More,” by George S. Schuyler. The latter is a clever and biting satire in which Schuyler imagines the social disruption of an invention that can make Black people look like white people in a matter of days. Black people who swear they would never do it, line up to be converted, while paranoia spreads among white people who fear being infiltrated by Black people who only look white. Thousands of Black people disappear into the white world, but have trouble truly passing because they have neither the back story nor the dominant caste perspective to pull it off, and thus live in fear of being outed.

What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?

If forced to name a single one, it would have to be Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.” He captured our present before it had even happened.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Zora Neale Hurston, to sit between them and to referee, over her favorite oysters and cornmeal dumplings and sweet potato pone

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