Following her memoir Becoming what will Michelle Obama do next?
Her new memoir has reignited speculation around what Michelle Obama will do next, writes Tanya Sweeney
It's been two years since Michelle Obama vacated the White House, all while giving cameras that memeworthy side-eye at the inauguration of her husband's successor, Donald Trump. Since then, there has been the odd blistering public speech from Michelle. Some have been delivered in support of Trump's election rival Hilary Clinton, prompting cries of a dream ticket candidate for the 2020 presidential election. Other speeches have been seemingly delivered by Melania Trump, who has been accused of plagiarising speeches once delivered by Michelle.
In any case, the holiday is officially over for the former first lady. And to say she is back with a bang is putting it mildly. Last March, she and her husband Barack signed a record book deal worth a reported $65m - among the biggest in history - the first fruits of which have finally come to light. Michelle's highly-anticipated memoir, Becoming, hits shelves this week, with Oprah waxing rhapsodical already: "This book is everything you wanted to know and so much you didn't even know you wanted to know. I believe it's going to spark within you the desire to think about your own becoming," said Winfrey.
"It's so well-written I can hear her voice; I can hear her expressions; I can feel her emotion. What she allows us to see is how she was able to discover, define and then refine her voice."
The memoir sees the former first lady, somewhat surprisingly for a former White House denizen, in tell-all mode.
Once frustrated for being tagged as an 'angry black woman', Michelle has delivered a very powerfully human book. Much as the title suggests, it charts her trajectory from being a highly accomplished lawyer in Chicago - arguably, the true rising star in her own marriage - to a glorified public servant, via life as a devoted mother and wife. Michelle was always studious and ambitious, yet she admits it took a while for Barack to move off the professional blocks.
"Barack fooled around in high school," she said on a recent talk show. "He didn't take school seriously in high school. He barely got his work done. He was a bum! And it took him a second. He had to grow up a little bit." It was only in his second year of Columbia University that he got seriously ambitious.
In Becoming, Michelle writes about arriving into Washington DC with her husband some years ago, by then a brand new and ambitious junior senator. Later, Michelle quit her job as a high-powered hospital executive in order to take on the mantle of first lady. Famously, Michelle noted that the pressure of being the first African-American president and first lady was notable: "We did not have the luxury to make mistakes," she has famously said.
"I'd been Mrs Obama for the last 12 years, but it was starting to mean something different," she writes. "At least in some spheres, I was now Mrs Obama in a way that could feel diminishing, a missus defined by her mister."
In the second section of the book, Michelle explores her relationship with Barack, from the ecstasy of first love to the inevitable rough patches of marriage. Michelle writes of being a "working full-time mother with a half-time spouse"; something that those on the outside might not quite have picked up on. The pair attend couples counselling - under duress, on Barack's part - so as to avoid the derailment of their marriage. There are other significant challenges to their union written about with startling openness, among them a protracted wrestle with infertility and a miscarriage, as well as the conceiving of their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, via IVF.
The oafish coarseness of the current US president, not to mention the glacial indifference of his wife, has many already nostalgic for Brand Obama. By turns refined and relatable, Barack and Michelle were nothing if not a united front.
Where Melania lands herself in hot water for wearing jackets emblazoned with 'I really don't care', it wouldn't have been unusual for Michelle as first lady to shoot hoops with youngsters in New York or hug schoolgirls in London. All in all, perfect conditions under which to release a memoir.
Yet where Michelle's personal brand has always been relatability, there's little denying the hefty sprinkle of stardust that comes with the release of Becoming. Oprah's glowing testimony aside, Michelle's current book tour has been criticised by fans for the 'Beyoncé-like' admission prices. Clocking in at $29.95 for general admission to $3,000 for a VIP package, the tour - run by Live Nation - is deemed exclusionary for many, despite the supposed inclusionary vibe. Also in the frame for the promotional circuit are Michelle's decidedly starry pals Tracee Ellis Ross, Sarah Jessica Parker and Reese Witherspoon, signed on to act as moderators for the book tour's live dates. The cosy showbiz factor aside, Becoming has been praised for its lyrical and assured prose, almost certainly paving the way for Michelle to pen another bestselling title.
Which of course begs the big question: where to next for Michelle? In addition to the release of Becoming, there have also been announcements of high-profile social initiatives on voting and girls' education. The Global Girls Alliance is intended to help educate millions of young American women who didn't finish their secondary education. Michelle is also playing a leading role in the development of the Obama Presidential Center, due to open in Chicago in 2021, walking distance from her childhood neighbourhood of South Shore.
Michelle may be part of the highly bankable A-list, but the pressing social issues that matter to her are evidently close to hand, too.
Barack is reportedly enjoying a life free from the constraints and responsibilities of the presidency. And Michelle, too, was evidently glad to see the end of her husband's presidency (the two waved off eight years in the White House with an extended holiday in Italy before hanging out in Polynesia with famous pals like Tom Hanks, Oprah and Bruce Springsteen). Suffice to say, Michelle isn't keen on a return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
She said recently that she never wanted to be a politician. "As a woman, you understand where your voice works best... I want to serve, I want to do work. I want to be out there but there are so many ways to make an impact. Politics is just not my thing. It's as simple as that." On this book tour, Michelle is likely to hear suggestions from fans that she should indeed become the Democrat's candidate in the 2020 presidential elections. Yet between various social initiatives, the book publicity and a Netflix deal with her husband, it's safe to say that between then and now, there won't be many dull moments in Michelle's diary.
For a full review of Becoming by Michelle Obama, which is available in Irish book stores now, see the Review section in Saturday's Irish Independent.