Obama, Barack (A.) 1961-
Obama, Barack (A.) 1961-
PERSONAL: Born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, HI; son of Barack Obama (a Kenyan government official) and Ann Dunham (an educator); married, wife's name Michelle (a public affairs professional), 1992; children: Malia Ann, Natasha. Education: Attended Occidental College, c. 1979-81, Columbia University, 1983, Harvard Law School, J.D. (magna cum laude), 1991. Politics: Democrat. Religion: United Church of Christ.
ADDRESSES: Home—Chicago, IL. Office—713 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510; fax: 202-228-4260.
CAREER: Community organizer in Chicago, c. 1983-87; University of Chicago Law School, senior lecturer in constitutional law, c. 1991-2004; Miner, Barnhill and Galland (law firm), Chicago, IL, lawyer; State of Illinois senator representing the 13th district (south side of Chicago), 1997-2004; U.S. Senator for Illinois, 2005-. Chair of voter registration drive in Chicago, 1992; Chicago Annenberg Challenge (charitable fundraising drive), chair. President, Harvard Law Review, 1990.
AWARDS, HONORS: Named among "Forty under Forty," Crain's Chicago Business, 1993; named among "Fifty Most Intriguing Blacks of 2004," Ebony; Newsmaker of the Year Award, National Newspaper Publishers Association, 2004; Chairman's Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2005.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Two books for adults for Crown; an illustrated autobiography for children for Knopf.
SIDELIGHTS: "Just about every serious candidate for high office since [former President] John F. Kennedy has written a memoir," Mary Mitchell wrote in Black Issues Book Review, but Barack Obama "may be the first candidate whose political campaign sparked interest in his memoir, rather than the other way around." Obama, who was elected U.S. senator from the state of Illinois in 2004, first published his memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance in 1995, when he was a lawyer best known for having been the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. Obama's memoir was little-noticed at the time of its publication. Then, nearly a decade later, Obama brought down the house with the keynote speech he wrote and delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, a performance Business Week contributor Richard S. Dunham predicted "will go down in history as one of the greatest convention speeches of all time." As pundits began speculating about Obama's chances of winning a future U.S. presidency, interest in his life story—and sales of Dreams from My Father, which had just come out in a new paperback edition—skyrocketed.
Obama certainly has an interesting life story. His father, a Kenyan who grew up herding goats, and his mother, a Midwestern teenager transplanted to Hawaii with her family, met at the University of Hawaii, where Barack Obama, Sr. was the first African student in the institution's history. They married, but the marriage proved short-lived. Obama, Sr. left his wife and child when he went to Massachusetts to study at Harvard University, and then returned to Kenya to work for that country's government. Obama's mother remarried, this time to an Indonesian, and Obama moved to Indonesia with his new family when he was six years old. At age ten, he returned to live in Hawaii with his maternal grandparents. Obama saw his father only once after age two; when he was ten years old his father returned to Hawaii for a visit. Obama, Sr. was killed in a car accident when his son was twenty-one, and his death spurred Obama to travel to Africa and build relationships with his father's family.
Throughout Dreams from My Father, Obama questions what the African heritage he received from his father means to him, and how it fits into his life alongside the white, Midwestern culture he was raised in. Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist that the book "reads like a wry commentary about all of us," insofar as all Americans navigate "messy contradictions and disparate communities" in their own lives.
Critics generally praised Obama's writing in Dreams from My Father. The book is written "in language worthy of a better-than-average novelist," commented Black Issues in Higher Education reviewer Ronald Roach, and Black Issues Book Review contributor Dan Holly described Obama as "a deep thinker …, a keen observer, an articulate visionary and a vivid storyteller." Many reviewers also commented about the honesty and lack of political spin in Obama's memoirs. For example, unlike some other politicians, Obama candidly admits to having experimented with drugs as a teenager. As Obama explained to Mitchell, this honesty was intentional. "I think that now when a lot of young men, African American men in particular, look at me, there is this perception that somehow I arrived on the scene—that I've gone to Harvard and I teach law and this and that and the other. What I wanted to do was show I really wasn't that different than a whole bunch of African American boys and young men out here who are struggling with an absent father and uncertainty about their identity and trying to figure out what it means to be a man, making mistakes and having to adjust."
In his book, Obama attempts to strike a balance between politics and writing. "Images, actions, and stories always speak the loudest. That's why I see my book as part of my politics. And I'll write more books," he told Oprah in an interview published in O. "Policy has to be guided by facts, but to move people you have to tell stories."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Obama, Barack, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 49, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.
American Prospect, August, 2004, "The Next Generation," p. 13.
Atlantic Monthly, September, 2004, Ryan Lizza, "The Natural: Why Is Barack Obama Generating More Excitement among Democrats than John Kerry?," p. 30.
Black Enterprise, February, 2004, Tamara E. Holmes, "Will Mr. Obama Go to Washington?," p. 26; October, 2004, Kenneth Meeks, "Favorite Son," p. 88.
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2004, Dan Holly, review of Dreams from My Father, p. 63; January-February, 2005, Mary Mitchell, "Memoir of a Twenty-first-Century History Maker: Why Barack Obama's Book, Published a Decade Ago but a Best-Seller Only Last Fall, May Be Destined to Become an American Classic," p. 18.
Black Issues in Higher Education, October 7, 2004, Hilary Hurd Anyaso, "Getting in on the Act," p. 4, Ronald Roach, "Obama Rising," p. 20.
Booklist, July, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Dreams from My Father, p. 1844.
Business Week, August 2, 2004, Richard S. Dunham, "Beantown's Kings and Klutzes: Kerry Did Just Fine, Obama Shone, and Hillary Had a Grand Time."
Colorlines, fall, 2004, "Running on Race," p. 17.
Ebony, October, 2004, review of Dreams from My Father, p. 30; November, 2004, Joy Bennett Kinnon, "Barack Obama: New Political Star Attracts National Attention," p. 196.
Jet, August 16, 2004, Kevin Chappell, "Barack Obama: U.S. Senate Candidate Is Electrifying Keynote Speaker at Democratic National Convention," p. 4; November 22, 2004, "Barack Obama Wins U.S. Senate Seat in 2004 Election," p. 4; January 17, 2005, "U.S. Senator Barack Obama Gets $1.9 Million Book Deal," p. 36; January 24, 2005, Kevin Chappell, "Barack Obama Takes His Seat in U.S. Senate," p. 4; April 11, 2005, "National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation Presents Honors during Annual Black Press Week Event," p. 12.
Newsweek, December 27, 2004, Jonathan Alter, "'The Audacity of Hope': Barack Obama," p. 74.
O, November, 2004, Marc Royce, "Oprah Talks to Barack Obama," p. 248.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995, review of Dreams from My Father, p. 46; February 7, 2005, Daisy Maryles, "Obama Who? No Longer," p. 18.
School Library Journal, February, 2005, "Political Star to Pen Kid's Book," p. 20.
Time, November 15, 2004, Amanda Ripley, "Obama's Ascent," p. 74.
U.S. News & World Report, August 2, 2004, Terence Samuel, "A Shining Star Named Obama," p. 25; November 15, 2004, "A Star is Born," p. 53.
Weekly Standard, December 20, 2004, Roger Clegg, review of Dreams from My Father, p. 39.
Barack Obama: Senator for Illinois Official Web site, http://obama.senate.gov/ (June 6, 2005).