As Michelle Obama experiences her final days in the White House, writers are honoring her role over the past eight years in a new collection of essays, The Meaning of Michelle.
Director Ava DuVernay wrote the preface for the book, which features 16 essays about the First Lady and the impact she has had on America.
“When she made us laugh — from her mom-dancing with Jimmy Fallon to her Lil Jon parody, “Turnip for What” to the College Rap with Saturday Night Live star Jay Pharoah — she reminded us how good it feels when you can be at home in your own skin and therefore at home in your world,” writes editor Veronica Chambers.
The novel, published by St. Martin’s Press and available as of Jan. 10, contains essays from Hamilton alum Phillipa Soo, writer Roxane Gay and others.
Below is a collection of some of the most memorable quotes from the book, touching on Obama’s confidence, style, kindness and legacy.
“Even after eight years of watching them daily in the press, the fact that the most powerful man in the world is a Black man is still breathtaking to me. The fact that he goes home to a tight-knit, loving family headed by a Black woman is soul-stirring. That woman is Michelle. Michelle! That name now carries a whole world of meaning. And a whole world of memory. And a whole world of magic.”
On Michelle Obama’s visit to see Hamilton: “So poised and beautiful. She said hello to each and everyone of us. I will never forget what Mrs. Obama said, ‘This is the best piece of art that I’ve ever seen.’ I was floored. She has seen so much art in her life. Coming from her, our First Lady, the modern-day Schuyler sister incarnate, and one of the most inspirational women of our time, it was the best compliment I have ever received.”
“Whenever I think about Michelle Obama, I think, ‘When I grow up, I want to be just like her.’ I want to be that intelligent, confident and comfortable in my own skin. […] What thrills me most about Michelle Obama is that the full extent of her legacy is yet to be written. As fiercely as she has served in the role of First Lady, she has been constrained by political realities and the expectations of the role, of the whole world. When Obama leaves office in January 2017, those constraints will be gone and many incredible opportunities will be available to her.”
“At the end of the day, I think that’s what was behind all the shine that her biceps received in the media, both in the United States and all around the world: here was a busy woman who had found the time to take care of herself. She was not last on her to-do list, after her amazing kids and her extraordinary husband. She put herself first — and had done so for a long time.”
On Michelle Obama and Beyonce’s friendship: “Excepting Oprah and Gayle, we have rarely been treated to seeing unabashed admiration between two sisters at the top of their game. The other exception would be the Williams sisters, but then, they are actual blood kin. Black women know full well that our lives are nothing without the sisters who inspire us, pull our cards, make us laugh uproariously and show up for every manner of celebration or rescue mission, depending on what is required. […] These two Black girls win on the regular, and long after they have departed their respective thrones, Black girls will win more easily because they were here — together.”
“Yes, [during his first presidential campaign] we eventually fell in love with Barack Obama. […] But Michelle was the conduit. Michelle was the one who signaled that it was right and safe for us to do all of these things. Essentially, the anti-coal mine canary. She was our litmus test. The final and most important exam Barack had to pass. We weren’t just voting for Barack. We desired to see Barack and Michelle (and Sasha and Malia) in the white House. To be paraded and honored around the world. Because while Barack was the rock star, the headliner, it was Michelle and not her husband who we fell in love with first.”
Ylonda Gault Caviness
“Fearlessly and fiercely, everything about this startling “bad-mama-jamma” from the Chi shouted to the world: I am a strong Black woman. And not strong in that long-suffering, carrying-the-burdens-of-generations way many of us have come to know from our mamas, their mamas and the mamas before them. Strong in a brand-new way. A strong that declares, ‘You don’t get to define me. Only I get to define me.'”
“Michelle Obama is the perfect First Lady because she is imperfect. Michelle doesn’t pretend to be the perfect anything. And she admonishes women not to give in to the pressure. […] But she does aspire to excellence. […] Her complexity is her dichotomy. That is why she resonates. American society has a knack for punishing complex women. We like them to fit one mold. But because Michelle lives in the middle, no matter who you are when you look at her you see yourself.”
Tanisha C. Ford
“For Black girls, bonding time with the women in their lives over hair and clothing are moments where they find safety and comfort, where family history is exchanged, and where they have playful conversations about what is and isn’t in style anymore. […] Thus, Michelle speaks to us, Black women and girls, when she dresses. She whispers to us as she strolls red carpets, attends White House galas and ventures out on state-sponsored trips to places as far flung as South Africa and Taiwan: your body is beautiful, do not believe the lies they tell about you, you are Black and proud.”
“I would argue that she represents at least 60 percent of what America will miss most about the Obama presidency. […] She is the embodiment of what black American writer Zora Neale Hurston meant when she wrote: ‘I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.’ […] “That is, I think, what befuddles and pleases and intoxicates America about Michelle Obama. It doesn’t occur to her to be anything other than herself.”