The personal and the political are intertwined in African American literature – from early slave accounts to the autobiographies of Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X – and while young Mr. Obama constructed the philosophical tentpoles of his beliefs he also wrote extensively. . in her journal, sorting out the cross-streams of race and class and family in her own life.
“When I think about how I learned to write, who I imitated, the voice that comes to mind the most is James Baldwin.
His belief that Americans are invested in common dreams and can move beyond their differences – a belief that would later be articulated in his opening speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, which introduced him to the country in his together – not only echoes the ending of Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible’ The Man ‘(in which the narrator concludes that’ America is woven of many strands ‘, that’ our destiny is to become one, and yet several ”), but is also an intrinsic part of her family history, with a mother who was born in Kansas and a father who grew up in Kenya.
In high school, Mr. Obama says, he and a “traveling group of friends” – many of whom felt like strangers – discovered that “storytelling was a way for us to explain ourselves and the world around us. , and where we belonged. and how we fit in or not. Later, trying to put his stories to paper and find a voice that came close to the internal dialogue in his head, Mr. Obama studied the authors he admired. “As much as anyone,” he says, “when I think of how I learned to write, who I imitated, the voice that comes to mind the most is James Baldwin. I didn’t have his talent, but the kind of fiery honesty and generosity of spirit, and that ironic feeling of being able to look at things, bluntly, and still have compassion even for the people that I did. ‘he obviously disdained, or distrusted, or was angry with. His books have all had a big impact on me.
Mr. Obama also learned from writers whose political views differed from his, like VS Naipaul. Although frustrated by “Naipaul’s sort of defense of colonialism,” the former president said he was fascinated by the way Naipaul constructed his arguments and “in a few strokes he could paint a portrait of someone and take a story. individual, incident or event, and connect it to broader themes and broader historical currents.
So, adds Mr. Obama, “there would be bits and pieces of people that you would kind of copy – you steal, you paste and you know, over time, you get enough practice that you can then trust your own voice. “
Researcher Fred Kaplan, the author of “Lincoln: A Writer’s Biography,” drew parallels between Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Obama, noting that they share a mastery of language and “a first-class temperament” for a president – “stoic, flexible, ready to listen to different points of view.