Mission Memorial Auditorium
Sunday, May 6, 1:00 pm
Janny Scott will present her book, A Singular Woman: the Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother. Scott conducted nearly 200 interviews to understand the life of the woman who knew her son could “do anything he ever wants in the world, even be president of the United States.” Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s sister and the daughter of Ann Dunham and her second husband, Lolo Soetoro, will be joining Scott as a special guest. Denby Fawcett, veteran Hawaii political journalist, will introduce them.
Title of latest book: A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mother
Genre: 18-and up; biography
Riverhead Trade (USA); 03 May 2011
Hardcover; $26.95; 384 pages; contains photos
Paperback; $16.00; 400 pages; contains photos
Kindle/Nook/iTunes version; $12.99
The book: Barack Obama has written extensively about his father, but little is known about Stanley Ann Dunham, the fiercely independent woman who raised him, the person he credits for, as he says, “what is best in me.” Here is the missing piece of the story.
Award-winning reporter Janny Scott interviewed nearly two hundred of Dunham’s friends, colleagues, and relatives (including both her children), and combed through boxes of personal and professional papers, letters to friends, and photo albums, to uncover the full breadth of this woman’s inspiring and untraditional life, and to show the remarkable extent to which she shaped the man Obama is today.
Dunham’s story moves from Kansas and Washington state to Hawaii and Indonesia. It begins in a time when interracial marriage was still a felony in much of the United States, and culminates in the present, with her son as our president- something she never got to see. It is a poignant look at how character is passed from parent to child, and offers insight into how Obama’s destiny was created early, by his mother’s extraordinary faith in his gifts, and by her unconventional mothering. Finally, it is a heartbreaking story of a woman who died at age fifty-two, before her son would go on to his greatest accomplishments and reflections of what she taught him.
The author’s research brought her to Honolulu five times, where she enjoyed its “very distinct sensibility, one that I had not encountered anywhere else.”
She was especially fascinated by the history of the East-West Center in Manoa, where Dunham met Barack Obama Sr., a visiting Kenyan scholar. The institution had just been established and brought in “this influx of international energy and melting-pot experience of Asia and the West at that moment,” Scott said.
“You could see how it ripped open people’s horizons to know that you could go overseas to Asia as part of your studies or a person from Asia could move to Hawaii. I think at that time, the ’60s, that must have been an eye-opening thing.”
Most striking, though, is how much confidence and faith she had in her son from very early in his life. “She would boast about his brains, his achievements, how brave and bold he was,” Ms. Scott reports. More than one friend remembered her saying that she thought he could even be president of the United States. Yet for him to make a major mark on the world, Ms. Dunham knew he would need the educational opportunities of both life in another culture and the best prep school in Hawaii.”
Janny Scott has performed a remarkable feat: without getting in the way of her subject, without hyperbole or editorializing, without politicizing her characters or scenes, she has drawn back the curtain on the quite-recent past and allowed a remarkable person to take center stage. With lightness of touch, attention to accuracy, and respect towards her subject and her eyewitnesses, Scott has brought a real person and her time to life. It’s almost like a work of anthropology that Dr. S. Ann Dunham herself might have appreciated.
Janny Scott was a reporter for The New York Times from 1994 to 2008, when she went on leave to write this book. In 2007 and 2008, she reported and wrote a half-dozen long biographical articles on then Senator Obama as part of a Times series on the lives of the presidential candidates. She was a member of the Times team that won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. She lives in New York City.
Check out some interviews and informational pieces with Janny Scott: