Skip to main content

tv   After Words  CSPAN  May 2, 2015 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT

10:00 pm
issue that is very politicized but i think it can be dealt with in a respectful way and agreeable to most americans. . . is not just a story of a life it's a story of modern american history. did you set out to tell the story in that context or did that develop as you found out more about her background in and
10:01 pm
the certain themes that emerged? >> guest: no i covered obama for the "washington post" for quite a while. i was living in chicago and working for the "washington post" am i recognized michelle obama has led a remarkable life a trajectory which is fascinating and i felt that it was worth telling a story where she is at the center of her own narrative not just the. when i embarked on the project i very much wanted to figure out where she was coming from. this thing she was doing in the white house and what were the origins of that and that meant getting into her family history and chicago history and the history that she had lived. >> host: chicagoans up being a major player in her story. going back there and looking at the life of her father whom she called her northstar even after he had died. what was it about her parents her father in particular that
10:02 pm
gave her that outlook enter values? >> guest: that's right and many people will remember the 2008 campaign that she would say of her father that he is a voice i hear inside my head when i ask him myself but am i making a good decision right now? robinson was born in 1935 in the southside of chicago. it parents had come north in the great migration. he went to a local high school. he went into the army. he was an officer. he was a swimmer and he really was the heart and soul of his family. he was the oldest brother. he was gregarious. he was kind. he worked with the democratic precinct and solving problems at the local level in chicago at a difficult time and he spun stories and shared his values as a course to michelle's mother.
10:03 pm
michelle was particularly close to her father up until his death. >> host: he had suffered for many years for multiple sclerosis. how did seeing him get up and go to work everyday in that state affect her? >> guest: is something that michelle obama talks about. she said i never saw my father run and yet she and craig her older brother watch their father get up every day and go and work at the city water plant even if he had a worsening case of multiple sclerosis. she admired his determination his pride in his work and how he never quit. >> host: she and her older brother craig grew up in this tightknit family and they seem to have a very happy home life.
10:04 pm
they were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. give us a sense of what that home life was like. >> guest: michelle obama said the bungalow, the apartment actually the bungalow with a list. >> host: how many bedrooms? >> guest: a one-bedroom and craig wants it if you said it was 1100 feet i would say we are lying. it was very small. they lived a very modest existence. in fact michelle's mother was a stay at home mom until craig and michelle were in high school but michelle said that bungalow was where my life happen. they lived upstairs with her mother's aunt and uncle who had taken the men. craig explained it as a shangri-la because it was peaceful integrated part of chicago and white flight was underway. families were strong and they
10:05 pm
could ride their bikes places. this was in the 60s than early 70s. michelle obama was born in 1964. post the mentioned fraser had come up as part of the great migration. talk a little bit about the credo that came with those families that came up from the south. they have a certain expectation for their children. >> guest: no the credo is exactly the right way to look at it and i talked with a classmate of fraser robinson and i talked with relatives of michelle's who all told very much the same story that their parents, their cousins and aunts and uncles had come north from the great migration to chicago and they came in search a world that was a little more fair where it was a little more free for
10:06 pm
african-americans and where there was more opportunity. and as one of fraser robinson's friends said fraser, michelle's father was about the business of being in the business. you get on with it, you do your work. and you do a little bit better than your parents and your kids will do a little of bit better than you. >> host: you say in the book that all of these parents had a larger message in there upbringing rooted in the paradox of seemingly -- ideas. there was quote the conviction that a combination of love support perseverance and upright living. it went out. >> guest: very much a story heard for many people. one of the player that for most of all patrick. i remember duval was the governor of massachusetts. he grew up on the southside.
10:07 pm
he's a little bit older then michelle robinson, mrs. obama now and he talked about the lessons he learned and there was fundamental message of hitting on with it but at the same time parents in his case a grandmother who had who endured racial hostility were saying yesterday exists and it's important to note that exist but do not let it stop you. you can still be whatever you want and i think about that in the context of michelle obama's paternal grandfather fraser robinson junior. he came from south carolina he came to better himself. he didn't see much of a future for young man like him in south carolina. and he was very mindful that he did not have the opportunity that so many other white people people -- we people did in michelle said if my grandfather would abort them born like he would have been a bank president. as it happened he worked in the post office.
10:08 pm
the federal government was a way in for many african-americans in chicago and around the country. he went into the army although a segregated of course in 1948 and then he went into the post office. so he shared the lessons that he had developed over time but he also said yeah is a little unfair right now but remember your destiny was born the day you were born. michelle talks about that. >> host: racial conflict racism, racial separation of fact michelle's childhood even after playground at rainbow beach? >> guest: rainbow beach was the public beach on lake michigan not far from where the robinsons lived in the community
10:09 pm
of south shore. in the early 60s there was a great deal of rasul competition and there was a riot at course. the right didn't turn out so well. it wasn't as much of a randazza disturbance prompted i think the record would show by white people in chicago who were frustrated that black people were encroaching on what they consider their territory. chicago was changing by the time michelle obama's coming up. rainbow beach was a place that she could write on her bike. was it place where, there was a city park in the city campus she attended. there's no question that michelle obama knew about racial hostility but she did not experience in the same way that her parents and their grandparents did. her mother went to a segregated school. her mother was born in 1937. michelle's experiences were very
10:10 pm
different read she had opportunities that were very different than your parents. >> host: michelle did a lot to create a safe haven. her brother set our parents gave us a little head start by digging us feel confident they do sound so corny but that's how they grew up. michelle was certainly a confident young woman independent. >> guest: she works very hard and she was very competitive. her mother joked at one point the show pretty much raised herself from the time she was about eight years old but they did have a very warm and embracing family. craig has spoken about this and michelle has spoken about this. the family was geographically close and they spent time with extended family but she also went to the neighborhood school as did craig. both of her parents were
10:11 pm
involved in that school. they were parents who connected there and her father did shift work and have a great deal of time with the kids. he poured enormous energy into them. >> host: tell us about 10-year-old michelle who won an award. what happened there? >> guest: this is a story that michelle tells about herself. she she was a rainbow beach and she was told he would be a good camper phone he didn't have the -- >> host: what did she learn from that though? >> guest: she liked being on top of things in charge of things. she was very determined. she talks about how how hard she worked to get ahead. she went back to school. >> host: i wanted to talk about that too because she had to travel across town to get too
10:12 pm
young when she went there. and that also says a lot about how chicago itself was in that time during the mid-70s 70s. >> guest: no that's right. she graduated from high school in 1981 with a young magnet school, about an hour and a half each way. some days the bus would be so crowded, she would take the bus stop away from the school so that she could get a seat on the northbound bus. i think one of the most interesting things that she had a best friend in high school who has a well-known father reverend jesse jackson. they were very close. they were both in the honor society and went to the young magnet school. michelle was very engaged at school. she was the senior class treasurer. she danced their and it was an interesting world i spoke with classmates and people who went
10:13 pm
to whitney young described it as an oasis. it was still very racially segregated. >> host: than her older brother craig had a big decision to make about going off to college. he was a college basketball player and got lots of offers from school that would have paved the way. he wants to go to princeton. talk to us about that decision that craig made to go to princeton even though there was that matter of money. how was that of pivotal decision the family made? guess what was an intriguing moment. this was in 1979. craig was graduating from high school. he was a very talented basketball player. he had an offer from the university of washington that was going to pay his way and he had been accepted at princeton where the family would have to pay some of the bills. he would have to earn some money on the side to get to go to
10:14 pm
princeton and he had a conversation with his father who was sitting at the kitchen table and his mother who was washing dishes. he was talking it over with his dad and he said that you know i think i might go to the university of washington. his father didn't come down on him but he said i'm disappointed that you made a decision like this. craig said well i'll think about it. he wanted to go to princeton and he said it was the most generous act of kindness he had seen in his life. he went to princeton. his parents pay the difference. sometimes with a credit card and he loved actually being there. he was grateful ever since and it's a story he does tell. >> host: michelle a couple of years later decides i would like
10:15 pm
to go to princeton to perhaps but at the time her counselors said her grades and scores were too low and her sights were too high. >> guest: no that's right. she looked at craig and said if craig can get into princeton i can get into princeton. and the counselors at whitney young said you might want to be thinking a little more modestly about where you can go. but she applied. she wrote a long essay and her mother said she kind of talked her way in. >> host: she did feel she talked her way and because i think a lot of people have looked and she told the story about the grades in the school not which she thought they would be. this was an era of affirmative action and people say she only got him because of her affirmative action that you say
10:16 pm
she did something to make her own case. >> guest: no she had done very well at school and of course as with so many african-american students who are getting access to these institutions for the first time she not only went to princeton but she did extremely well there. >> host: was she happy at princeton? >> guest: no it was a very interesting remark she made at my angelos memorial service last year when she said looking back on her recent career. she talked about what it was like to be on the campaign trail when she was criticized and she mentions a feel of loneliness in ivy league clash. she had a bit of a struggle when she got there at 817 and she worked her way through with the help of friends and that patented michelle obama determination and discipline. >> host: how has the whole affirmative action debate affected her career winston and
10:17 pm
her sense of herself hearst sense of living in two worlds and being judged by something other than just michelle? >> guest: no she wrote in her senior thesis that princeton she said it made me more aware of my blackness than ever before before. that was because of the nature of princeton at that time. black students were a minority. we also should remember there were not so many women and also her classless question. michelle said i got to princeton and eye sockets with bmws and i didn't even know adults with bmws. it was a place where many black students felt not welcomed. this was something that she was very aware of and she and a friend talk about it. >> host: even from michelle's first days on campus to her dormitory, her first roommate.
10:18 pm
>> guest: no to remarkable story and it has to do with the mother of her russian roommate. the student catherine donnelly and she tells it with some chagrin. she is in the dorm room. everybody is moving in and craig robinson shows up and says is my sister around? she wasn't and she went up to see her mother and she said mom guess what i have an african-american roommate and her mother went ballistic and try to get her daughter pulled out of that room i complained to the authorities and said my daughter did not come to princeton to be living in a room with a black student. later in a semester she did move out but it was a very dramatic sign of the times. >> host: indeed. getting back to her senior thesis at instead, she designed the survey and send it to some
10:19 pm
400 black princeton alumni. what was she trying to determine what the survey and what was the essential question that she seemed to be struggling with about blackness and privilege and raise? >> guest: you remember the thesis got so much attention. it was her card word cut out of her thesis. michelle obama lived the black life up rents and all she thought about was raised in one you might remember juan williams said she was stokely carmichael and the designer dress. i was interesting -- interested in looking at the thesis to figure out what questions were on her mind. what were her formative movement movement -- and i found this intriguing not for what her conclusions were but the questions she had paid the question she was asking was what did it mean to african-americans
10:20 pm
to rise to the elite in terms of how they thought others thought. she had some ideas about solidarity perhaps or maybe distance a few rows in terms of class is of course she would. compared with many of the african-american friends who didn't go to princeton and didn't have those opportunities. and she explored the thesis in those questions remained central to her getting into law school and today. >> host: and then going on to harvard law school. it did seem that that was a better fit for her. maybe she was older and more confidence but she seemed to find her stride there and the community and maybe that was the difference. what seemed to make harvard law a better experience for michelle then princeton?
10:21 pm
>> guest: i think it was a challenging and intellectual time at harvard. as elena kagan on the supreme court says all the talk had turned to race by the time michelle obama was at princeton. she and her friend who became active in the black law association had many conversations about conundrums of obligation as they write about in the book were her friend verna williams said we were asking questions about what is it mean to be a lawyer in what is a mean to you via black we are? what does a lot accomplish in terms of changing the country for the better? it has been by that point 50 years since brown versus board of education. the hardly this country is hardly ever come its racial past. they were asking what role they could fulfill as they climbed in society and into the elite. what should they do with their
10:22 pm
life and should they make a whole bunch of money and kind of forget? guest. >> host: michelle even at harvard law school tried to make a difference, time -- try to change things on the ground. talk a little bit about that. >> guest:guess. >> guest: she was very active at harvard law school. she worked in the legal aid bureau are she and other students worked at -- as volunteer lawyers for clients in need. handling domestic cases for example. she would work on a housing case for some and perhaps you have been affected and according to her mentor at the time she was tenacious about that. she also worked with a couple of her friends to make the alumni gathering in the spring a little bit more purposeful not just
10:23 pm
recruiting where they would come in and recruit these terrific lawyers but in fact or would there would be a discussion like the ones they were having in the offices of the association what they were asking how can we do well and how can we do the right thing, to do good. >> host: after she left harvard law and she was highly recruited. she goes back to chicago. she does corporate law at a white firm in austin. how did she make that decision and did it surprise people that knew her, her family members? >> guest: i think she faced a real dilemma. she wasn't entirely sure what it was she wanted. she lingers that had she not had such extensive student debt from princeton and harvard check might have gone directly to a
10:24 pm
nonprofit but in fact this was a place where she could pay off some bills and feel what issues connected. >> host: she did that corporate law thing for a while. how was chicago different when she came back in late 1980? >> guest: vast and important question because the city had been changing and varied dramatically from her parents lives and what whether parents were coming up the most important thing that happened when she returned to chicago in 1988 the city had elected a black mayor. there were opportunities that came with the changing times one of which was law firms wanted to make sure they had women and minorities who were on the staff and were representing clients that were available. not just because it was the right thing to do although of
10:25 pm
course i would make a lot of sense but in act as a business model. it was very important to have women and minorities who are out there working for the -- >> host: also gone were the days of -- politics in chicago. now you had black leadership and really charismatic mayor of the city for a change. but something else happened for her. >> guest: one minor thing. one minor development. >> host: they were visiting some associates and summer interns and i asked to supervise this hotshot young fellow. guess what hotshot young law student from harvard and she was assigned to be as law student. they hit it off. >> host: i let the story go because it was late for them to
10:26 pm
the meeting and he had to charm his way out of that. >> guest: they tell the story on each other and she was determined not to be impressed with him. he had kind of big ears and didn't look so interesting. he was late. that was not a big moment but she told the story now a number of times about how they likes talking to each other and they connected. >> host: i love she says my first net him i told in -- >> guest: she often told her mother i'm done with him. i'm not going to be dating. >> host: also they were from very different backgrounds and different temperaments even. what attracted them to each other? what did he see in michelle? >> guest: he was dazzled by her beauty he told associates and he was struck by her humor.
10:27 pm
they laughed a lot in the last of the same things. and i think that's probably true today. they have great senses of humor. he also has written that he admires the shell michelle's rootedness the fact that she was anchored in chicago and on the south side and had a close family. he said in fact that his family roots were scattered so that appealed to him as well. >> host: and what did she see in him other than a handsome hotshot? >> guest: she talked a little bit later after they were married terry she said that she admired that he could take a few risks among other things. in fact he had a large vision and wasn't quite like certainly the people that worked with her but like other guys.
10:28 pm
she was intrigued by him. she said there was a moment in the campaign. she said there was a moment when she fell in love with him and it was the moment when he took her along to the basement of a church in chicago where he spoke to some of the community members other chicagoans with whom he had worked with as a community organizer before he went to law school. she said he talked that day about the world as it is and the world associate the and how we can give up. we had to get from one to the other and she said she saw passion and this is the guy i can believe in. >> host: thing she can believe in. when michelle to barack home to meet the family her brother craig said i'll give it a month tops. >> guest: i think it was probably less about barack obama that was about michelle obama.
10:29 pm
they had things according to craig who has spoken about this that michelle had pretty high standards and she was not going to wait around for somebody you didn't quite measure up. but they by all accounts were impressed with barack obama. >> host: talk about her mother marion who said she was a little bit concerned. >> guest: she said in an interview in 2004 she had a little bit of a concern because barack obama had a white mother and a black father and she said she just thought it might be a little difficult for their future kids. she came to adore him and it sounds like she came to adore him pretty quickly. >> host: barak said that it was until he met the shell's family that he began to understand her so what was he
10:30 pm
saying in that household and what did he see and feel their and connect and understand? >> guest: he felt something very warm, very positive and very close and if you remember his up ringing, his father and mother split when barack was very young. barack then lived in indonesia for a while with his mother and her second husband. he went back to hawaii where he lived with his grandparents and he felt a little bit all over the place. in michelle's family he felt something that was strong and good and kind of fun it sounds like also. >> host: kind of fun. but then when michelle's father died after the decades long battle with multiple sclerosis powder that help cement the relationship with barack? he had made a promise to her
10:31 pm
father. >> guest: there's a moment that he writes about, barack obama does that as fraser robinson was being lowered into his grave that he realized he was becoming part of the family that he was close to michelle and he writes that he would -- >> host: that brings tears to my eyes. not so fast barack. he was dragging his feet a little bit about actually getting married. >> guest: he tells us great story about how michelle was ready to be married. he had graduated from harvard law school by this time in he had been elected president of the harvard law review. he was studying for the bar put one little idea cannot thought it was the i in the middle of marriage. he and michelle were out to dinner to celebrate his work on the bar exam ended his telling
10:32 pm
michelle is haranguing him about marriage and it's time to get on with it. we have been doing it for a long time and ellis of time and barack would say well what is a piece of paper? and anyone who knew michelle robinson could tell him that argument was not going to go far. at the end of the dinner dessert came with an engagement ring and barack said he said to her that said you off didn't it next. >> host: they are so cute. their marriage was a time for soul-searching for both of them. michelle said he wanted -- he wanted to leave sydney in austin austin. what was going on for him at this time? why we have agreed to? guest goodies she said it didn't
10:33 pm
make her happy and one of the reason reasons she was asking the question was a close read of hers at princeton died rather suddenly. michelle obama asked yourself if i were to die tomorrow would i be dying happy? is this how i would want to feel i spent my life in answer was no. she would stand in the window of his great office tower in downtown chicago and she would feel literally and figuratively i can't can even see my old neighborhood. she thought what may try other things. she looked around and she applied at city hall where her resume found its way to one valerie jarrett whose name we now know as the the presidential counselor. she had spoken with who would become the chief of staff at the white house. susan sherman was in city
10:34 pm
council and michelle obama said i don't think i really want to be a lawyer. she ended up working in community development for a couple of years. >> host: and at this time barack obama is starting to think about his future in politics. he has written rather than get a job, get rich and get out. they want to lend a hand to others. just go there were intriguing periods were intriguing. in their lives briga 1990 they are young couple and they don't have children yet. they made the decision that resumes to this day. not getting out or moving up or moving away from the issues that animated them but digging in and making a difference. michelle went from austin -- simply austin to city hall to a
10:35 pm
job that made her happy in her life and that was a program called public ally which was of leadership training project rate it was the one the first thing she said was entirely her on in a net job she recruited young people a very diverse array of young people and guided them into internships for non-profits and agencies and and that's dentate give back the way she felt she was giving. >> host: a great job for her. she loved it but then barack is talking more and more about doing something with politics and she wasn't so sure about that. we are pretty familiar with the art of the political story but along the way michelle has been very ambivalent at one point even said to him barack this is not noble.
10:36 pm
how did she reconcile -- >> guest: barack would commute to springfield every week and when the legislature was in session and he did that job for a very long time before he international politics. he was very committed to it and michelle was not sure that politics not only was was noble but she wasn't sure to call them much good or for that matter really was what barack obama could achieve. he was an extremely talented man and someone she believed. she wondered whether that was the best use of this talent not to mention the fact that he was gone a lot and it didn't pay very well. he. >> host: he was gone a lot at the time to make had their first child malia and later sacha. it sounds in your book that
10:37 pm
there was a great deal of strain in america that time. was there ever any consideration that okay enough, we are not going to go through with it and they weren't sure if they were going to talk about which they did. >> guest: that's not something i know. i don't know how dark the problems became. what we do know is the story of barack himself is told about the marriage where he wasn't as present in the relationship read he said he was a terribly ambitious man and he was working at the university of chicago law school when doing lawyering on the side of being a legislator. he had an awful lot of things he wanted to do and it took michelle pointing things out to him for him to realize that maybe he needed to do a little bit more around the house for one thing and to respect michelle obama's ambitions, her
10:38 pm
professional ambitions a little more than he did. >> host: although she ended up giving up on her ambitions to become a political spouse so let's talk about her role that michelle has played for him as a wife, a friend. what sense do you have that she gives him a lot of advice or has good instincts? >> guest: this is something he talks about himself and he says he listens to michelle who was very much a partner in the enterprise, not the co-president co-president, that is not a role she envisions for his -- for herself and not a role she wants to play but people around them say that one friend calls her the most true right and someone
10:39 pm
else called her a true north and that description. she can be counted on to recognize what matters to people people. she has a very good instincts for people. >> host: you say in the book that should if barack is a helium balloon she is the string. >> guest: think about the speech in 2000 for the democratic national convention the red states, blue states. a u.s. senator, thought to be and he is elected later that year and he's just a hot commodity. michelle was very good then and many people say it is a role that she has continued to play at saying first of all is just a man that he doesn't pick up his socks. >> host: we heard a lot about the dirty socks. guess koshy got criticism for that for trying to cut them down a little bit.
10:40 pm
she said if anybody can imagine that i can mask a late barack obama doesn't know barack obama very well but she said she wanted to lower expectations. so many supporters were saying barack obama is a man that was going to save the nation and do some pretty dramatic things. she said let's not put all the responsibility at one young man's face a there is a groundedness to her that is very valuable to barack obama. >> host: with all that she made some pretty famous missteps during the campaign which came to define for many the end of michelle. campaigning in the walkie barack was doing quite well in the primaries and she said for the first time in my adult life i am proud of my country. not just because barack is doing
10:41 pm
well but i think people are hungry for change. her critics left out the middle part of that. for the first time i'm proud of my country. guess koshy's hearing about it to this day. people say how can you not read proud of her country and you went to princeton and harvard and how can anybody say that? that was clear sign that the polarization of the country at the time because a lot of people said i'll go i get that. of black name -- black man
10:42 pm
a lot of things that are said and things that are done are just plain mean and hurtful. how did michelle manage that? is there any sense that it hurt her? >> guest: there are a couple of ways to look at that. if you think that to the criticism she got on the campaign trail after those remarks about being proud of her country for the first time and
10:43 pm
her speeches on the campaign trail where she talked about how the playing field is not level and that deck is a bit stacks. she felt hurt by the criticism that people weren't understanding her. and she was also slightly mortified that maybe she was hurting her husband's campaign so she definitely real then to change your tone of it. she reemerged at the democratic national convention and her numbers skyrocketed and never really came down. fast-forward to the kind of criticism she gets now and of course she gets criticism but just really the attacks that are racial. she has not spoken publicly about them and she frankly has dealt with this was such a great deal of grace and yet when you think about the kinds of things people say about her when
10:44 pm
elected officials comment on her body, when elected officials share e-mails that are grotesque caricatures of who she is its remarkable. >> host: i wonder how she protects her children from matt. once she got into the white house she declared she was going to be mobbed in chief after so many people had made her -- maybe greater expectations or was she going to be involved in policy like hillary clinton, champion for causes like eleanor roosevelt. she's going to be mom in chief and maybe pick up a couple of things there. she has managed to raise those kids they seem normal. they have a lot of privacy and they do seem like good kids. >> is not interesting how people
10:45 pm
project not just onto him so many expectations put on to her. she did go to princeton and harvard. she is a terrific speaker. she will do that, won't she? michelle says my first job here is to make sure my girls are in a good place. that was her first goal and the obama slip in a meticulous world. it's bizarre that bubble that they live in and they have worked very very hard to make malia and sacha's world a little bit more normal. >> host: despite all the bitterness and partisanship outside the life and family in the white house. guess that they talk about living above a store where barack obama traveled so much
10:46 pm
during his campaign and worked so hard to get elected and he was commuting to springfield. after all michelle obama was driving the car pool and looking after the girls while he was gone. now they are in one place and mrs. robinson is there after all and they do talk about how much it means to them to be centered. >> host: michelle has been involved in high-profile campaigns. she has worked with military families helping to send them to college. what do you think is closest to her heart and what will she be remembered for? >> guest: that's a great question and her legacy is still being made. she is a couple of years yet to go and she will be 53 when they leave the white house in 2017. i think it's interesting to see what she's doing and her policy administered -- initiatives with
10:47 pm
the experiences she had along the way. if you think about her most recent effort on higher education it's about encouraging disadvantaged children to get on with college and to find a way to get further training. if you think about the school nutrition programs of course she wants all kids to be healthier but if you think about who buys those lunches which is much the subject of controversy 70% of those lunches are bought by kids who cannot afford to pay full price and if you think about or mentoring programs and i think is where her legacy will come and come her messages message look at the power of my trajectory and barack obama's direct -- trajectory. believe in yourself and stick with it and you'll make it. when you think about that it's back to where we started a conversation, that was the message she heard from marion
10:48 pm
and fraser robinson. >> host: she talks to a lot of schoolkids, college kids and reiterates that message over and over again. do do you think it's being accepted or are barack and michelle really exceptional? >> guest: they really are exceptional. with what they have achieved in who they are. not everyone is going to be able to live for narrative personally but for the book i traveled around the country and watch her in action and i always talk with the kids when written to her to a person they said this is great. she cares about us and she believes in us. we are going to try harder that sounds a little corny but it's really her message. >> host: you know she has come into washington. she has in the country this cadre of supporters women in
10:49 pm
particular who say michelle we have got your back. we don't care what other people say we have got your back. is that extraordinary to see what she's been able to do to empower a sense of confidence and support from black women a lot of times? >> guest: in the book is a drug contrast. i talk about a couple different places she spoke during the campaign. one at a luncheon where lobster is served and she rouses the crowd with enthusiasm. and i juxtapose that with meeting black women on the southside of chicago near woodlawn which is where michelle obama grew up and at the very time in fact michelle's parents were living in woodlawn michelle
10:50 pm
has called it one of the great american place. i went to a meeting and in contrast to the gathering in maine or the gathering she had in manhattan not long before these women would lock the door behind them to make sure nobody could get in and they came to listen to michelle to help reelect barack obama. i talk to women in that room and they had such -- to michelle obama. it was wonderful to them to see someone in the white house to look like them. something that they could never match and could be possible when they said exactly what you just said cassandra. we have her back and one woman said when she put her arm around the queen and people criticized her and of course it's a very natural michelle obama gesture. she was embracing and someone said she should put her arm
10:51 pm
around the queen again. she should get up and get out and be exactly who she was. >> host: that's interesting you brought that up about her hugging the queen. she has this aura of openness but she doesn't give a lot of interviews. you didn't get to interview her for this book and i'm wondering how you feel you did get to know her and what was the key to understanding her and breaking through that little wall despite all that openness. >> guest: no i think this is not unique to michelle obama as first lady but it is very clear that she is disciplined and she controls her condition as best she can. she chooses exact weight where she will go and to whom she will grant interviews and so on. to try to develop a true portrait of her i was lucky for
10:52 pm
wanting to have a lot of time. i worked on us for more than four years and there were dozens of people i'm so happy to say who helped me tell their story. they were mentors they were friends from different parts of her life and there were relatives. i also was thrilled to discover that michelle obama even though she doesn't grant very many interviews to reporters who cover her she gives many speeches. she does lots of q&a's sometimes with high school students who ask this question so i read hundreds of thousands that were said michelle obama has used. the book opens with michelle obama talking to anacostia high school kids and an end at the maya angelou memorial service. >> host: she has used her voice from the bully pulpit but some of her critics would
10:53 pm
consider her side of the aisle could she have done more. just go i think that's one of the enduring questions of michelle obama's time in the white house. could she do more and she has critics from women to her left who say could she be more active than could she reach out more? i think will be very interesting to see not only what she does in this rather freer time that she and the president has left. especially when she does after and what she does when she leaves. >> host: what do you think? >> guest: no i believe her when she says she is not entirely sure. she does some writings. >> host: she is writing her
10:54 pm
own autobiography. just got not a sure exactly what it is, if it's a memoir or what she will do with her writing. i think she has made clear that she intends to continue to work on education remembering how important education was to her own life and the messages she heard and the messages she is sharing with kids now. she calls education the most important civil rights challenge of our time and she expects to keep working on that. >> host: that goes back to her own roots in education with those children of the great migration and her generation. that would be a wonderful cause for to maintain and she should get into politics some say. following the footsteps of hillary clinton. tuc and a chance to michelle obama would run for political office? >> guest: not only has she said no under no circumstances
10:55 pm
barack obama was asked what if you heard 10 years from now that your wife was in politics he said i think it would be clear that she had been abducted by aliens. it doesn't look to be in the cards. >> host: could she be on the campaign trail perhaps for hillary clinton? >> guest: she is an tip to have for that but i think it's clear that she and barack obama going to want to see a democratic elected. she is a terrific fund-raiser. she has raised millions and millions of dollars for the democratic party and she's in great demand as a speaker. >> guest: one thing that you mentioned a night when she was the main speaker at the democratic national convention in 2012. and i remember watching that. she came out on stage and her
10:56 pm
dress was shiny and perfect and her hair was shiny and perfect as she gave a speech that you call masterful. you say in the book that michelle is such a sensation. her father borrowing money to pay for her -- barack's grandmother -- some men earned more money while barack's family continued to scrimp and safe. young mary's paying more towards their student loans and for their mortgage. she goes on to say though that as president she has seen first-hand how that doesn't change how you are.
10:57 pm
it reveals who you are. and what did being first lady revealed about michelle obama and i almost said michelle obama superstar. >> guest: no you are a fan i can see. i think in this role we have seen so many sides of michelle obama, so many worlds in which he can walk with great comfort and confidence in so many ways in which she really is trying to make a difference. i think it gets back to those conversations about purpose she had as a group growing up that she had a princeton harvard that reflects the world -- the work she did along the way on the southside chicago during her 20 year professional career where she is in the white house. she is trying to show herself as an example to kids about what is possible in this country that is still pretty darn imperfect but where things are changing in
10:58 pm
what one person can do. i think she certainly will hope that message will be a big part of her legacy. >> host: what did you say that michelle obama's story of a life is that the american dream? >> guest: i think it's safe to say that she represents an important chapter in the country's history. i think we have seen in her and in the times she has inhabited obviously great progress toward a world that is a little bit warfare but let's keep in mind too that it was only a year ago that michelle obama had given a speech to commemorate the 60th anniversary on brown versus board of education pointing out there's a long way to go. michelle obama herself that this is a country where too often the police someone in the street excessive the color of their skin. michelle obama has no illusions that we have not cross the great
10:59 pm
divide that her story i think is part of that history and progress. just go. >> host: this is a wonderful book you have written. i know you want every one in the world to read it but who in particular would you like to see read this book that might give them a better understanding not just of michelle obama but of the american story? >> guest: i hope that the book will be read on a number of different levels. someone who is just really interested in michelle obama has pretty triptych story to tell but i certainly hope there will be people who will read a little more deeply and will see themselves in this story which is a story that reflects such an important slice of her history and i hope there will be people who will read who may not have fully appreciated just exact way how recently we have seen such
11:00 pm
inequality and how much it is still with us and reflect on that in the kinds of things michelle obama's talking about and discussing and trying to change it. >> host: a life, about the first lady from childhood through the white house, the book is "after words." thank you so much for being with us. >> guest: thank you so much for having me. great questions. it was fun to talk about it. >> host: great to talk about it. good luck. >> that was "after words" booktv's signature program in which authors of the latest nonfiction books are interviewed bybye bye journalists and public policymakers and others familiar with the material. "after words" airs every weekend on booktv at 10:00 p.m. on saturday, 12 and 9:00 p.m. on sunday and 12:00 a.m. on monday. and you can also watch "after words" on line. go to and click on "after words" in the booktv series and topics list on the upper right side of the page.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on