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Isabel Wilkerson Loves Books. That Doesn’t Mean She Treats Them Gently.

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.

What books would you recommend to somebody who wants to learn more about America’s caste system?

W. E. B. DuBois’s “Black Reconstruction” is vital to understanding the reinvigoration of caste after the end of the Civil War,

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