BY ISABEL RODRIGUEZ ’21
In celebration of March’s Women’s History Month, Michelle Obama starred in the YouTube original special, “BookTube: A Discussion with Michelle Obama.” The series is divided into seven short videos in which Obama discusses her record-breaking memoir, “Becoming,” and answers questions from a panel of YouTube personalities. Well-known in the literary community, the chosen YouTubers included John Green, Ariel Bissett, Franchesca Ramsey, Jouelzy, Kat O’Keeffe and Jesse George. Green is the author of best-selling novels including “The Fault in Our Stars,” and co-founder of two YouTube channels, Vlogbrothers and Crash Course. Ramsey wrote “Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist” and is an executive producer and host of the MTV series “Decoded.” According to her website, Jouelzy is a “digital influencer curating a community of #SmartBrownGirls that she empowers through weekly videos on cultural and lifestyle issues that impact women of color.” She is also the author of “Send it On: A Collection of Short Stories.” Bissett, O’Keeffe and George are “BookTubers,” YouTubers who make videos where they share their book reviews and discuss other literary topics.
Green moderated the special, and each YouTuber had the chance to ask Obama one question. The longer interview is available in the extended version provided by YouTube. All of the videos are available for free.
The YouTubers said they jumped at the opportunity to discuss Obama’s book with her and encourage viewers to read it. In an interview with Forbes, Bissett said, “My hope with this discussion, as has been my hope with every bookish video I’ve put out online, is to encourage people everywhere to think about literature in a way that is fun and engaging. [Obama’s] book is a story of growth and risk-taking. I know that her story will inspire viewers to go after the life they believe in. If I can help facilitate that through a discussion of her book, I feel I’ve done my small part.”
At the beginning of the interview, Obama revealed that “[her daughter] Sasha still hasn’t read [‘Becoming’].” Still, it was the best-selling book of 2018, according to Publishers Weekly. Bustle states that her memoir earned that title “just 15 days after its release.” “Becoming” was released in November 2018 and sold 725,000 copies on the first day it was available in bookstores. In a Variety article, it was reported that the book has sold more than 5.9 million copies in both the U.S. and Canada. In the book, Obama shares how her experiences, such as growing up in Chicago, her marriage and motherhood, have shaped her life.
Throughout the interview, Obama gives advice and shares personal anecdotes. Various discussion topics include marriage, relationships, favorite books and her writing process. When asked by Jouelzy if she could talk more about the importance of having a range of relationships, Obama describes how she came to learn the value of having your own village, or as she put it, “a posse.”
“I learned at a young age that sometimes all you need is to be heard by people who care about you. I learned going to college that when you’re out of your comfort zone […] the first thing that you need to do is build your own community,” said Obama. “So you need to find that place, that kitchen table, you know, away from home where you go out there and you’re the only black kid in the classroom. You do need to come back to somebody who’s not asking you about your hair and is not questioning you.”
Sheyla Garcia ’21 agrees. “Michelle Obama’s advice from the interview resonates with me,” Garcia said. “From personal experience, I can attest to the importance of having a posse. Being more than 2,000 miles away from my home, finding my posse here at Mount Holyoke has been essential to my college experience.”
In her book, Obama emphasizes the importance of having someone believe in you. “I’d been lucky to have parents, teachers and mentors who’d fed me with a consistent, simple message: You matter. As an adult, I wanted to pass those words to a new generation.”