Barack Obama entered the White House as an accomplished writer, having published two critically and commercially successful books – Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope – before becoming the 44th president of the United States.
Now, as he prepares to leave office in a week, Obama has shared with the NYTimes the books that sustained and inspired him during his two terms. “Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say,” he explained. “But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.”
Among the writers he expressed admiration for was Dominican Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz, whose fiction Obama said speaks “to a very particular contemporary immigration experience,” capturing a “longing for this better place but also feeling displaced.” The narratives, he noted, are linked to a larger American literature tradition – books that are “steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up.”
Díaz, for his part, has shared conflicted feelings about Obama’s presidency over the years. In particular, he’s been highly critical of the Administration’s immigration policies, which he dubbed a massive disappointment to anyone with ties to the Latino community in an interview last year. But, just a week before the end of his presidency, Obama invited Díaz to lunch along with and four other novelists he admires (Dave Eggers, Colson Whitehead, Zadie Smith and Barbara Kingsolver). Junot described the experience in an admiring Facebook post.
“I had lunch with President Obama on Friday, which was surreal and extraordinary to say the least,” Díaz writes. “I figured after all my criticism of his policies I wouldn’t be high on his list for anything but clearly there’s room at his lunch table for dissent, something we won’t be seeing a lot of with the next president. What surprised me was how completely unbowed President Obama was, how certain he was that the country would find its way. He burned with optimism and faith invincible. If President Obama could still be positive after all the Republican bullshit he’d been through – that gave me hope. He was certainly one of the most complete man I’d ever met. With only a few days left before he leaves office I find myself, more than anything, overwhelmed by the knowledge that over the next four years we’re going to be missing Obama something awful. “