ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Monday, 16 January 2017

Barack Obama, the writer, the son...Dreams from My Father...Obama gives insight into writing his memoir.

Hello there!

Writers come from all walks of life. It's not odd that many famous people choose to write/ghostwrite a memoir after they retire, but it's unusual for a very famous person to write one before he becomes famous.

Image resultI'm talking about Barack Obama, out-going US President. Dreams from My Father, first published in 1995, then re-published in 2004, makes riveting reading in my opinion. According to the blurb, "...it is a 'lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir [about] the son of a black African father and a white American mother [who] searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American."


If you haven't read it, you can probably guess what lies between the pages. Sure it's provocative, as Obama describes the phenomenon of belonging to two different worlds, and thus belonging to neither, but I'm posting about the writer, Barack Obama, here today.

I'm a sucker for Prefaces/Acknowledgements and so on, and I found the Preface to the memoir intriguing when Obama talks about writing this memoir.

"Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book's publication--hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying. The reality fell somewhere in between. The reviews were mildly favourable. People actually showed up at the readings my publisher arranged. The sales were underwhelming. And, after a few months, I went on with the business of my life, certain that my career as an author would be short-lived, but glad to have survived the process with my dignity more or less intact."

There was a spate of publicity following Obama's election to the Democratic US senate seat for Illinois. His publisher was prompted to re-publish the book. Obama said:

"For the first time in many years, I've pulled out a copy and read a few chapters to see how much my voice may have changed over time. I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced. I have the urge to cut the book by fifty pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity. I cannot honestly say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine--that I would tell the story much differently today than I did ten years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research."
"And then, on September 11, 2001, the world fractured. 
It's beyond my skill as a writer to capture that day, and the days that would follow--the planes, like specters, vanishing into steel and glass, the slow-motion cascade of the towers crumbling into themselves, the ash-covered figures wandering the streets; the anguish and the fear. Nor do I begin to understand the stark nihilism that drove the terrorists that day and that drives their brethren still. My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with abstract, serene satisfaction."

I think he captured the day and the aftermath exceedingly well.

Then there's the bond he shares with his mother:

"She traveled the world, working in the distant villages of Asia and Africa, helping women buy a sewing machine or a milk cow or an education that might give them a foothold in the world's economy...We saw each other frequently, our bond unbroken. During the writing of this book, she would read the drafts, correcting stories that I had misunderstood, careful not to comment on my characterization of her but quick to explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father's character.
...she was the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to her."
I think Barack Obama shares many of our insecurities about writing. I felt inspired to know someone of his ilk struggled with his subject matter and syntax. How many times have you asked yourself as a writer, 'Why does the world need a book by me?'

Farewell, President Barack Obama, much loved here in Australia, and I suspect, in many countries around the world.




 Thanks for reading.




38 comments:

  1. Yeah, the next four years are going to be interesting in comparison, and not in a good way :(

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  2. Damn, never even knew he had a book. Sure shows that any insecurities can happen to anyone and such thoughts happen to many. Unless you are a cocky crazy cat lol

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    1. Yep. Deep down, most ordinary mortals are a tad insecure! He's written more than one book.

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  3. Never crazy about him as a president but I think he's really interesting as an individual. He's right that no words will ever capture that day, not for any American.

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    1. I think most people outside of the US are more enamored of Obama than Americans themselves. Like it or not, the US President affects life in other countries too. And not only Americans will never forget 9/11. It affected most of us. Australians died in those buildings, too.:-(

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  4. Obama's loved over here in Jamaica as well. I love that he sounds like any writer concerned with how well it is written and how the world will receive it. 9/11 changed the world. I was at home when it happened. My teen self was shocked to see it on the news.

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    1. Yes, Sheena-kay. It's one of those tragedies where you always remember where you were. And there's a lot of humanity about Obama, or so it seems. I'll be interested how he goes as an 'ordinary' citizen.

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  5. Obama's command over words, spoken and written, is masterful. We are going to miss this POTUS around the world.

    How many times have you asked yourself as a writer, 'Why does the world need a book by me?' Too many times to keep track of! :-) And on a different note, I like John Updike's 'Varieties of Religious Experience' for its nuanced capture of 9/11.

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  6. You're making me want to read his book, Denise. I so dread Friday and the days and years after. We are losing so much when President Obama leaves office.

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    1. I'm glad you think so, Natalie. How much we can only imagine for now.

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  7. Like every writer, he looked back and saw his own growth. Maybe he'll have time to re-write it when he's out of office. It's funny how other countries love him so while his popularity here has waned over the years. (Certainly not my favorite president.)

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    1. I see he's #7 in popularity for US Presidents and that ain't so bad. I suspect he'll be more loved than his successor.

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  8. Hi Denise - I read that book a few years ago ... possibly as he came to power ... he has a way with words and what we need to hear and read. I'm sure he will rise in estimation - certainly around the world ... though I'm surprised that he's 'so derided' in the States. I remember thinking it's not a desperately good read, yet the power of his thoughts are in there - he'll be a great world statesman standing beyond just being president: he'll add to the world. Interesting times for us all ... with thoughts - Hilary

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    1. I didn't read his first version. I think he's a great statesman who didn't achieve many of his goals because of congress.

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  9. I'm going to miss him, his calm elegance and grace and, he's leaving office as one of the most popular presidents ever. (#7 after Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan.) When I visited The Netherlands they loved him over there, and said he was well liked throughout Europe.

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    1. '...his calm elegance and grace...' Spot on, Bish. How about Michelle. What a loss to the world stage.

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  10. Wow, I didn't know about the book. When was I? It's kinda cool to hear that he cringed when he reread it.

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  11. I'd never heard of this book. I must come from under my rock more often!

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    1. Maybe you should stay under that rock, Lee.

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  12. I knew he'd written a book and never once thought of buying it. DUH! That's now changed. Thank you!
    This was a beautiful tribute to a man I know we are all going to miss. I keep wondering if we can convince him to run again in 2020, but I'm know that just selfishness talking - he's already given so much!
    I'm not even sure anything can protect us from what's to come. It will be bloody but the optimist in me see's a much better, more 'active' world afterwards. Those who've stayed silent and allowed the evil to flourish, now have no choice, but to act!

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    1. Answering this after the 17 minute inauguration speech. Rather violent there on the streets. Has this ever happened before? What's to come?

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  13. I've admired Obama since he spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I listened to the audio version Dreams from My Father (narrated by Obama) not long after the convention and came to respect the man even more. He stands head and shoulders above any other president in my lifetime, both as a human being—intelligent, empathetic, honest, respectful; and as a politician willing to work toward compromise even in the face of intractable dissent and petty obstructionism.

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    1. Yes I think it's his humility and humanity that appeals.

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  14. I actually have this on a CD. I got it for free in the mail in 2008. I haven't listened to it yet. I forgot about it, but you have reminded me. :)

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  15. It is interesting to see the insecurities of a writer that went on to such greatness.

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  16. Oh my goodness! Let me make it clear that I write this comment before reading your post and there will be one more after I read it. I came to your blog from IWSG question of the month list and I had the surprise of my lifetime awaiting me in the form of this post. I finished reading Dreams from my father on Kindle Unlimited yesterday and just posted my feelings about it here : https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-reading-2016-five-recommendations-daniel-clough?deepLinkCommentId=6219139799039729664&anchorTime=1482758474129&trk=hb_ntf_MEGAPHONE_REPLY_TOP_LEVEL_COMMENT

    Sometimes life throws such coincidences at us, what are the odds that we both are a part of IWSG - have never interacted with each other and are discussing this 20+ year old book now! Wow! (my blog is http://wordcoiner.com)

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    1. What a coincidence! I'll check out those links later. Lovely to meet you!

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  17. After reading the post :

    Well, yes, he is certainly loved in India. What I like about this memoir is - he doesn't mince words, doubts the authenticity of all 'too rosy' tales he has heard, and doesn't lose hope in the end. His language is effortlessly graceful. He inspires me to write my own memoirs.

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  18. This was very interesting. I wasn't even aware that this book was published before he became president.

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    1. He's written more than one and there's many written about him, of course.

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  19. I'm glad to hear you're a sucker for prefaces. Me too!

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