Skip to Content

Ken Burns & Isabel Wilkerson

In Conversation

Ken Burns
Ken Burns image by Evan Barlow 

Friday, October 2, 2020
8:00 pm


Virtual Event

This event will take place online - please see listing for information on how to attend.


Penny Stamps Speaker Series
Watch Video
Open to the public
Free of charge

Our lens on his­tory pow­er­fully influ­ences how we envi­sion and shape the future. Join two of our coun­try’s most accom­plished sto­ry­tellers, Ken Burns and Isabel Wilk­er­son, as they dis­cuss the com­plex­i­ties of the Amer­i­can nar­ra­tive and how grap­pling with the past might lead us forward. 

Jour­nal­ist Isabel Wilk­er­son was awarded the National Human­i­ties Medal by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in 2016 for cham­pi­oning the sto­ries of an unsung his­tory.” The first African-Amer­i­can woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in jour­nal­ism, her book The Warmth of Other Suns, a sweep­ing and inti­mate exam­i­na­tion of the Great Migra­tion, won the National Book Crit­ics Cir­cle Award for Non­fic­tion. Her new book, Caste: The Ori­gins of Our Dis­con­tents, exam­ines the entrenched hier­ar­chies that shape Amer­i­can life. Told through inti­mate per­sonal nar­ra­tives and deeply researched his­tory, Wilk­er­son exam­ines the ties between the Amer­i­can caste sys­tem and those in India and Nazi Ger­many, and points to ways Amer­ica can move beyond our arti­fi­cial and destruc­tive human divi­sions, toward hope in our com­mon humanity.

Ken Burns has been mak­ing doc­u­men­tary films for over forty years. Since the Acad­emy Award nom­i­nated Brook­lyn Bridge in 1981, he has gone on to direct and pro­duce some of the most acclaimed his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­taries ever made, includ­ing The Civil War; Base­ball; Jazz; The War; The National Parks: America’s Best Idea; The Roo­sevelts: An Inti­mate His­tory; Jackie Robin­son; Unfor­giv­able Black­ness: The Rise and Fall of Jack John­son; The Viet­nam War; The Cen­tral Park Five; and Coun­try Music. His films have been hon­ored with dozens of major awards, includ­ing six­teen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, two Oscar nom­i­na­tions; and a Life­time Achieve­ment Award from the Acad­emy of Tele­vi­sion Arts & Sci­ences. His new web­site UNUM rearranges clips from his past films into playlists to add his­tor­i­cal con­text to the present.

This con­ver­sa­tion will be mod­er­ated by Lynette Clemet­son, Direc­tor of Wal­lace House, Knight-Wal­lace Fel­low­ships and the Liv­ingston Awards at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan. A long­time jour­nal­ist, she was a cor­re­spon­dent for Newsweek mag­a­zine in the U.S. and Asia, a national cor­re­spon­dent for The New York Times, and senior direc­tor of strat­egy and new ini­tia­tives at NPR. Wal­lace House works to sus­tain and ele­vate the careers of jour­nal­ists, fos­ter civic engage­ment, and uphold the role of a free press in demo­c­ra­tic society. 

Con­tinue the Conversation

In Dia­logue: Isabel Wilk­er­son’s Caste
Mon­day, Octo­ber 5, 5:30 pm
Zoom event: Reg­is­tra­tion required

Join mem­bers of the Depart­ment of Afroamer­i­can & African Stud­ies (DAAS) com­mu­nity as they explore the mean­ings and impli­ca­tions of Wilk­er­son’s work. This live, vir­tual con­ver­sa­tion will be led by Earl Lewis, Direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Social Solu­tions, occur­ring as a com­mu­nity engage­ment opportunity.

Reg­is­ter to join: myumi​.ch/​O4P30
Or watch: lsa​.umich​.edu/​d​a​a​s​/​e​n​g​a​g​ement

This event is part of the Democ­racy & Debate theme semes­ter with sup­port from Wal­lace House and the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Museum of Art (UMMA).