Michelle's Memoir: Brooklyn's Take

We scoured Red Hook and its surrounding areas to ask females within the community what they felt about Michelle Obama’s best-selling memoir, “Becoming.”

2018 has proven itself to be a monumental year, reeking of political devastation far more significant than ever deemed possible. Yet in light of these events, there has been an unmistakable amount of positivity surrounding a particular political figure.

On Nov. 23, former First Lady Michelle Obama released her first book, “Becoming.” The memoir is a coming-of-age story about Michelle’s evolution as a Black woman ingrained in her Chicago roots — who also happens to be married to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

The news of Michelle’s book release populated headlines on both national and local levels. Even with its much-anticipated debut, the success of “Becoming,” was astounding. Numbers did not (and could not) lie.

According to Penguin Random House, “Becoming” sold over 2 million copies in 15 days, 1.4 million copies in its first week. With a sold-out book tour to follow, Michelle’s memoir was literally becoming an entity. As a woman myself, witnessing the popularity of this particular body of work left me increasingly intrigued.

It seemed as if “Becoming” was following each of us, much like its words follow Michelle through the twists and turns of her own life. One cannot walk down the street without seeing “Becoming” sitting upright in its light-blue binding, placed directly in every bookstore’s window front.

As a result, I decided to set out for myself to learn what others thought of “Becoming.” Over the next two weeks, I interviewed women in community spaces, book clubs and on the street, asking what they felt about, “Becoming.” By inquiring the minds of New York’s locals, I hoped to seek answers to the many questions I had about the book.

Ahead, females within Red Hook and its surrounding areas weigh in on the first-time author’s memoir. Was the female community of Brooklyn, New York, as head-over-heels for Mrs. Obama’s words like the rest of the world seemed to be?

The reviews were actually mixed. Around the Red Hook Public Library, patrons offered no comment, exclaimed that they weren’t interested, or said they’d get around to reading the book when they had time.

For some, the thought of picking up Michelle’s memoir was a mere afterthought, and not necessarily a pleasant one. For others, like Tiffiney Davis, “Becoming” serves as representation of her existence in the world.

Davis, a coordinator at Red Hook Art Project, received her copy of “Becoming” from a friend. At the time, Davis didn’t know how special her copy of “Becoming” was.

The book found itself in Davis’ possession — but with a distinction she didn’t know was personal to her. Inside the book, there was a signature from Mrs. Obama herself. Her friend was one of 500 people granted entry into Union Square’s Barnes & Noble where Michelle was signing books, just days before.

“I’m honored to have Michelle’s signature,” Davis said. “It definitely inspires.”

Davis, like Michelle, is also from Chicago, and found herself relating to moments within Michelle’s life as if they were her own.

“As a woman of color, as a Black woman, “Becoming” is a self-made identity, learning who you are and owning it,” Davis said.

A similar message resonated with Morgan Matthews, a Diversity & Inclusion Analyst and DJ, who attended the “Becoming” book tour at Barclays Center, a 19,000 person (sold-out) venue, Dec. 19.

“I always liked Mrs. O but never drooled over her like I saw many others around me do. Hearing her story and seeing her raw authentic self at the book tour brought me to tears,” Matthews said. “I was moved by this woman's resilience and ability to connect, impact and influence.”

While some may disregard Michelle Obama’s book entirely, those that interacted with the book felt personally connected to the words on the page. At the end of my two-week-long research, I was left with other questions, dissimilar to the ones I had asked before.

Was “Becoming,” once opened and consumed, a passageway to learning more about oneself? More importantly, was “Becoming” not about Michelle Obama’s life, but rather, her life experiences that we could relate to?

Uli Beutter Cohen, a writer and creator of Subway Book Review, hosted a book club Dec. 18 to discuss “Becoming.” Beutter Cohen said, “I love how Michelle Obama describes the many roles she inhabits, but that she is never defined by her title. She has faith in her own story and is led by an action rather than a noun.”

Selena Brown, a Youth Speaker & Yoga Instructor who attended Beutter Cohen’s book club, said that she loved how Michelle Obama was brave enough [in “Becoming”] to speak to the taboo parts of her life.

“It is so powerful to read about a powerful black woman.” Brown said.

What I concluded as I gathered my notes and sat down to transcribe interviews, was that “Becoming,” was a direct interaction between reader and writer — and an intimate one at that.

To question the popularity of “Becoming” in comparison to a specific geographic location, developed both unattainable and unnecessary results. My answers lived on the other side of the memoir’s 448 pages, understanding what ensued after the reading finished.

“It’s a breath of fresh air, it enlightens you,” Davis said. “We did it as one.”

“In order to be a force in this life I have to understand mine similar to how Michelle did in writing her memoir,” Matthews said.

“Becoming” was successful because of individual relation, not sales or numbers. The memoir was supported because of an undeniable truth that lived inside, much bigger than any best-selling title could reveal.

She [Michelle] is a role model among role models teaching the most essential lesson of all,” Brown said

“One must be willing to stand her own truth if she is to live a life that is authentic to her true self.”

Carly Quellman