chapter  9
19 Pages

Obama’s Voices: Performance and Politics on the Dreams from My Father Audiobook: Jeffrey Severs


During the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, the major literary news from the White House concerned antiwar poets rejecting the First Lady’s invitations to join her symposium and the president engaging in year-long reading contests with adviser Karl Rove. Rove won 2006 with 110 books read to Bush’s 94; newspapers that August reported that one of Bush’s reads at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, was Albert Camus’s The Stranger, but, as Rove later confessed to Rush Limbaugh, they also both racked up many John D. MacDonald mysteries before mutually deciding to “get back to the serious stuff.”1 American literati thus had many reasons to warmly greet Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 as the possible advent of a president who not only read “the serious stuff” but could write it too. Although his 2006 campaign book, The Audacity of Hope, has its merits, Obama’s literary reputation rests on the memoir he published in 1995, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, a book contracted based on the fame he acquired as the fi rst black editor of the Harvard Law Review and predating his entry into Illinois state politics. As Obama’s star rose with his celebrated 2004 Democratic National Convention speech, the book appeared in two new editions (2004, with a new preface, and 2007, with an excerpt from The Audacity of Hope) and has been a long-term best-seller.2 It also garnered the attention of critics, academic and otherwise, keen to appreciate the book not so much for its prehistory of a political career as for its play of genres and the long lines of its infl uences, from the bildungsroman and American autobiography to the black authors Obama reports reading as a teen-W. E. B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Malcolm X.3