Dreams and Audacity
(Originally published on Red Room on February 11th, 2008. Updated on January 20th, 2009.)
President Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, is the newest author to join Red Room. We are honored and excited to welcome such an esteemed author whom many call the most inspiring new political voice to emerge in a generation. While most people are aware of President-elect Obama's incipient presidency, some may not know that he is also an accomplished and award-winning author of two books.
President Obama's first book, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995, Three Rivers Press) is a memoir published after Obama was elected the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, but before the birth of his political career. The book was rereleased following Obama's widely admired keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention; the 2004 edition includes a new introduction by Obama as well as his notable address. The audio version earned Obama a 2006 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
In Dreams from My Father, Obama tells the story of his life up to his entry into Harvard Law School. He was born in Honolulu to Harvard University-educated economist Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., of Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. At the time of Obama's birth, both of his parents were students at the University of Hawaii. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old, and later divorced. In the absence of his father, Obama formed an image of his father from stories told by his mother and grandparents. After some years of elementary education abroad, Obama returned to Hawaii, where his first weeks in an American school made him conscious for the first time of racism and what it means to be an African American. At this point, his father came to visit him and his family; it was the last time that Obama would see him before his death in a car accident in 1982.
Dreams from My Father goes on to describe Obama's years adrift as a Los Angeles undergraduate, his maturity upon transferring to Columbia University, and his community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on Chicago's South Side. Obama recounts the difficulty of the experience as his efforts faced resistance from entrenched community leaders and apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy. He decided at that time that change would only come from direct participation in politics-in his case, by running for office. Before he left Chicago to attend Harvard Law, Obama decided to visit relatives in Kenya. The book concludes with an emotional scene in which Obama visits the graves of his father and paternal grandfather.
Obama was a candidate for the United States Senate when delivered the keynote address on the floor of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Entitled The Audacity of Hope, the speech propelled him to national prominence. In 2006, Three Rivers Press published The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, a book-length account in which Obama expanded upon many of the same themes he originally expressed in the convention speech.
Upon its release, the Chicago Tribune called The Audacity of Hope a "political biography that concentrates on the senator's core values." The New York Times noted that it is "much more of a political document" than Dreams of My Father, "devoted to laying out Mr. Obama's policy positions on a host of issues, from education to health care to the war in Iraq." An excerpt from Obama's speech at the 2004 convention best encapsulates the message of The Audacity of Hope:
"In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here—the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a millworker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!"
The book has remained on The New York Times Best Seller List since publication. The audio version recently won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album.
Red Room author Ayelet Waldman recently wrote an exclusive account of a recent event where Obama inspired her and other authors. Since the primary and general elections, and the inauguration, many of our authors have been writing extensively (and from various points of view) on their Red Room blogs about the President. Red Room is thrilled to welcome the President to our community, and we encourage our members to visit Barack Obama's Author Page.
–Huntington W. Sharp, Editor, Red Room
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