The first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs, A promised land, has just been released this November 17 at Fayard. On this occasion, the former president gave a long interview to France 2. But rather than addressing political journalists he answered questions from François Busnel, literary journalist (La Grande Librairie, France 5) and connoisseur of the ‘America. A way of emphasizing this unwavering link that he maintains with literature. The books and their authors are also present very quickly and in a large part of the interview. One figure emerges among all, Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning writer for literature was close to the former president.
The tutelary figure of Toni Morrison
“It has been a great privilege to hang out with Toni Morrison. One of the perks of being President is meeting people you have idolized,” confides Barack Obama, moved, after seeing a passage from an interview with the famous African-American writer who died in August 2019. The latter then described him as a man “far above anyone else“by his intelligence and his humanity.
The former President of the United States is all the more flattered and recalls the influence that this woman had in his pen. It is by reading some of his books, like The song of Solomon, Sula or The most beautiful eye that the politician learns to write. “She is someone who taught me to write. I haven’t taken a creative writing class or learned to write formally. I learned through reading and his books which were a university where I could learn to express oneself and to describe in a beautiful way the most fundamental human questions “, precise the ex-president.
An influence that goes beyond the medium of letters to land in politics. “Maybe I brought aspects of a literary sensibility to the presidency“. More than a literary model, Toni Morrison was a friend used to “dinner in a relaxed setting“alongside the Obama family. “What was wonderful about Toni was that she was both majestic and mischievous and quite funny. She had a wonderful laugh and an amazing sense of humor,” he recalls.
Literature and politics to better “look at the other”
“Good literature takes you out of yourself and puts you in the shoes of people whose lives are totally different from yours. And that’s how you find out who you really are. And I think sometimes politics can. do the same thing” believes Barack Obama. Like literature, politics brings together opposing beings but united by the same story: “She takes people from very different backgrounds and she says: there is a common thread between all of you which is that we all have our personal stories but we also have a common story to tell. Who we are as a people, what is important, what are our values and what is worth taking risks “, resumes the former US president.
By seeking to understand the other, we grasp the sensitivity of each one and his desires. An approach that Barack Obama strives to undertake in his book: “I try in this book to understand what they think, that does not mean that I always agree with them. It is one of the ways out of the impasse and the conflicts that we see in the United States, but also in the whole world. It’s being able to look at others in a way that recognizes their humanity and their interests. ”
“Explore the past to allow us to look at it in an honest way”
The issue of racism comes into the conversation. “The power of a writer like Toni Morrison is to dig into the past to allow us to look at it in an honest way that frees us and allows us to move forward because we have taken it into account, we have assumed this past “, considers Barack Obama. In her library, to Toni Morrison’s books are added those of Colson Whitehead and Jesmyn Ward because they allow to retrace the history of the African-American community.
Questions that need to be addressed and resolved: “The United States still needs to work more on these issues and how to do it. This is what I also discuss in this book “, explain Barack Obama. “It is important not to simply try to define race issues as victim and culprit. But rather to say that it is a human situation. We need to see the humanity of those at the top of the racial hierarchy and of those who suffered from prejudice and bigotry and be able to see them as whole people, with good and bad sides.“he concludes.
Demystifying the presidential function
“My aim in this book is to try to describe that in a democracy those of us who rise to positions of power are still human beings with fears, doubts. There will always be a gap between the public image and the presidential function with its iconic aspects “, supports the one who marked his presidential campaign with his famous “Yes we can”.
If the president flew in the most luxurious private jets, he still recalls that until 2008 it was he who polished the body of his car. Telling with humor and transparency, a way for him to “demystify the function” president and explain that it is ultimately only “a job“.