Isabel Wilkerson honored as 2009 Laxalt Distinguished Writer

9/29/2009 - By: Zanny Marsh

The Reynolds School of Journalism has named narrative journalist Isabel Wilkerson the 2009 Robert Laxalt Distinguished Writer. Wilkerson will discuss her craft at the Joe Crowley Student Union, Oct. 7, at 7 p.m. The event is free and the public is welcome.

Narrative reporting is described as the “journalism of empathy.” The writing style requires the journalist to invest weeks or months researching a story to understand everyday life from an insider's perspective.

“The narrative journalist draws from the strengths of ethnography to understand both the cultural contexts and the private lives of those whose stories she is telling,” Wilkerson said.

In 1994 while working as the Chicago bureau chief for the New York Times, Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for “First Born, Fast Grown: The Manful Life of Nicholas, 10,” the story of a boy growing up on the south side of Chicago.

In 2005, Wilkerson revisited the family — specifically Nicholas’ mother — who had entered the middle class.

“Angela Whitiker’s Climb,” described the matriarch’s journey through substance addiction recovery, education, and employment. The story was the final installment of the Times’ series, “Class Matters,” and a subsequent book by the same name.

“Isabel Wilkerson is an exceptional honoree,” said Jerry Ceppos, Reynolds School dean. “Bob Laxalt wrote about people and culture, much of it about the Basque people of France and Spain and their immigration to the United States. Ms. Wilkerson is a journalist whose stories capture the deeply personal experiences of her subjects.”

Wilkerson has covered the uprooting of people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and she will soon publish a book about the migration of African Americans from the American south to the big cities of the north.

“Just as Bob Laxalt made the transition from news reporter to fiction and non-fiction author, Isabel Wilkerson is making that same transition from newspaper writing to book authorship,” said Warren Lerude, a long-time friend of Laxalt and journalism professor emeritus. “Both writers have applied journalism to the telling of rich, complex stories that broaden understanding of the human condition.”

Wilkerson joins the College of Communication at Boston University as a journalism professor Sept.1.

The Robert Laxalt Distinguished Writer program was established following the 2001 death of Laxalt to encourage new generations of writers.

Laxalt, considered by many to be Nevada’s finest writer, founded the University of Nevada Press; wrote l7 books, two of which were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Laxalt wrote under contract for National Geographic Magazine; and, for l8 years, was a professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

The Reynolds School of Journalism is Nevada’s only accredited journalism school.


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