Isabel Wilkerson’s award-winning The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) is an evolutionary marker for transparency and authority in a genre that remains in flux. This paper examines the presence/absence of the narrator in this masterwork, in particular how Wilkerson negotiates the journalistic goal of objectivity and the inevitable confrontation with subjectivity. This paper argues that Wilkerson taps the literary tradition of John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946). Like Hiroshima, Wilkerson’s Warmth embodies the soundest of journalistic conventions: third person point of view, extensive sampling/interviews, and secondary research. Structurally, Warmth also mirrors Hiroshima. Wilkerson chose characters that span spectrums of privilege, age, and circumstance, winnowed down as emblematic of a cast of millions who fled the Jim Crow South. Just as in Hiroshima, the camera eye rotates among them, providing alternating vignettes in an advancing chronology. However, Wilkerson breaks from Hersey in important ways, namely the authorial detachment that has come to be known as Hiroshima’s hallmark. Wilkerson, on the other hand, has been praised for her empathy and transparency. She lays bare her connection to the story, her techniques, and her decision-making process in an extensive methodology section written in first-person. In a historical moment marked by increased reader anxiety and distrust of the press, the reception of Warmth has rewarded this subjectivity and increased transparency.
Recommended CitationSchulte, Bret, Analysing literary journalism: Twentieth century stories: objectivity and authority in Wilkerson and Hersey, Current Narratives, 4, 2014, 3-16.