May 18, 2008
The Long Run
The Story of Obama, Written by Obama
By JANNY SCOTT
Barack Obama was a first-time author and rookie politician embarking upon his first run for public office. Hermene Hartman was the publisher of N’Digo, a magazine in Chicago aimed at upscale black readers. As Ms. Hartman tells it, she got a call from Mr. Obama in the fall of 1995 saying he wanted to come and talk. He wanted her to read his newly published memoir.
Mr. Obama’s story first surfaced publicly in February 1990, when he was elected as the first black president of The Harvard Law Review. An initial wire service report described him simply as a 28-year-old, second-year student from Hawaii who had “not ruled out a future in politics”; but in the days that followed, newspaper reporters grew interested and produced long, detailed profiles of Mr. Obama.
The book came out in the summer of 1995, shortly before Mr. Obama announced that he was running for the Illinois State Senate. At 57th Street Books, in Mr. Obama’s neighborhood in Chicago, a few dozen people turned out for a reading. There were respectful reviews in newspapers including The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Times Books sold 8,000 to 9,000 copies.
Crown moved up the publication date, Barnes & Noble increased its order to 20,000 copies, and the book hit the top 50 on Amazon before it was even reissued. Bidding on eBay for a first edition copy hit $255. By December, Mr. Obama was the senator-elect and his book had been on the best-seller list for 14 weeks. And Ms. Dystel had initiated discussions with Crown about a new book contract for Mr. Obama.
The book’s release in October 2006 must have been the envy of anyone who ever published a book or contemplated higher office. In Chicago, people started lining up outside 57th Street Books at 4:15 on the morning of Mr. Obama’s book signing. For his Seattle signing, the Elliott Bay Book Company rented the 2,500-seat hall where the symphony performs, sold out the tickets in 90 minutes and reported a level of turnout that topped all previous records at the store for any author, including Mr. Clinton.