Michelle Obama Goes On Tour With Her New Book 'Becoming'

Nov 12, 2018
Originally published on November 12, 2018 7:23 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Michelle Obama is ready to share her story. The former first lady has written a new memoir called "Becoming." In it, she reveals personal details about her marriage, her struggles with infertility and finding the key to her own happiness. But as the wife of the man who used to be in the White House, part of Michelle Obama's story is entwined with President Trump. All Things Considered host Audie Cornish went to Chicago to talk with Michelle Obama about her book, and I talked to Audie about what she learned. Hi.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Hey. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Thanks for being here. So between political profiles and his own memoirs, President Barack Obama has had his story out there in the public eye for a long time. How did that affect how Michelle Obama approached this book and her story?

CORNISH: Well, she joked about how when they first started dating, he was already keeping journals, right? He sort of had the archive going from the start. She breaks down her book into three parts - "Becoming Me," "Becoming Us," and "Becoming More" - in order to tell her journey from childhood to their relationship to her time at the White House and on the campaign trail.

She grew up in this tightknit family - she called them a family of planners - on Chicago's South Side. And she called herself a box-checker - right? - somebody who for a long time didn't like to take risks. And then she falls in love with someone who takes a lot of risks - right? - and even wants to run for office, which she has no interest in. She talked about the toughest years for them in their marriage, when he was in the state senate in Illinois. They have small children. And here's a bit of that conversation.

There are moments earlier in your marriage and earlier in his political career, especially when you have two young children...

MICHELLE OBAMA: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Where he's leaving you alone a lot.

OBAMA: Yeah. Irritating. Hard (laughter).

CORNISH: And you end up in marriage counseling. And I think people are so invested in you guys as the perfect couple, the way you're talked about in public. What was it like for you to write about this, to say, like, not only did we have problems, we had to sit down with someone and get help?

OBAMA: Well, because people are invested in us as a perfect couple, I thought it was important to make sure that couples know that marriage is hard. Let me start by saying this. I love my husband, and we have a great marriage. But great marriages require work. And great marriages have rough spots. You know, I want my daughters to know that Mom and Dad - we had to work through some stuff. So, Audie, simply because I know young people idealize us, as you said...

CORNISH: Relationship goals.

OBAMA: ...That - hashtag. Hash - there's a hashtag.

CORNISH: There is.

OBAMA: #relationshipgoals - I want people to know the full context of it.

MARTIN: So interesting - she is talking about her personal life. But I imagine she also talks in this book about the pressures of her public life. I mean, first ladies always get a lot of scrutiny, but she really got more than her fair share as part of the first African-American couple and family to live in the White House. Did she talk about the scar tissue she must have developed over the years?

CORNISH: Very much so. In the book and in our conversations, she talks about those early years campaigning alongside her husband when she says she was, at the time, quote, "demonized as an angry black woman who didn't love her country." She felt that she was not given what she called a kind of grace that first ladies are offered out of the gate. I asked her, given all this scrutiny, if she could identify with the comments that Melania Trump made some weeks back saying that she felt like the most bullied person in the world.

OBAMA: I can't because - you know, I wrote about the fact that, you know, how I learned not to sort of take myself so seriously in this role was when I would meet military families and I would see the sacrifice that these families would make because they had a loved one serving and dying and putting their life at risk. I admired them. And it made me feel like, let me not complain out loud about anything that's happening to me.

MARTIN: I think it's fair to say it was a deft political pivot.

CORNISH: She was not that interested in talking about the Trump family period. I certainly mentioned the political moment and talked about that with her, but she did not really say his name the entire time, though in the book she does call him a misogynist, she does say that his advocacy of the birtherism conspiracy theory put her family at risk. And she says she'll never forgive that.

MARTIN: So when we see books like this, political memoirs, they're often thought of as a precursor to running for office. There's been a lot of talk, a lot of highbrow. Michelle Obama - would she ever do that? So would she ever do that?

CORNISH: I did ask her that question. And for a little bit of context, she watched her father, a city worker and precinct captain in the sort of Chicago machine politics. That left a bad taste in her mouth. She grew up friends with Santita Jackson, the eldest daughter of Jesse Jackson, and watched how politics took a toll on that family. So she is not a fan of politics. Here was her answer to that question.

OBAMA: I had enough exposure to it to feel like, do I want to put my feet in this sand?

CORNISH: Right.

OBAMA: You know? So, no, it was never anything - and that's what I try to tell people. Now, politics was never, ever anything I would have chosen for myself. So when people say, you should be in elected office, I wonder, why would you say that? Because that's not my story.

CORNISH: Well, because you're well-spoken. You have the track record. They called you the closer on the campaign trail.

OBAMA: And there are many other things you can...

CORNISH: That's a person people want.

OBAMA: But that's what people want. But what do I want for me? And sometimes as - you can get swept up in other people's wants for you when I know in my heart that my skill set and my desire and my passion doesn't lie in that arena.

CORNISH: So she didn't say what her next chapter will be, but I think we're going to hear more of that as she's out there on this tour and people kind of ask her that question. But clearly she wants to close that door.

MARTIN: You can hear more of Audie Cornish's interview with Michelle Obama later today on All Things Considered. Audie, thanks so much.

CORNISH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.