On this day in 1995, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” a memoir by a little-known law professor named Barack Obama, is published. Obama wrote the book before entering politics; 13 years after it was published, he was elected America’s 44th president.
“Dreams from My Father” tells the story of Obama’s family—he was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. The book is also, as Obama writes in the introduction, “a boy’s search for his father, and through that a search for a workable meaning for his life as a black American.” Obama describes his adolescence in Hawaii, where he was raised by his white grandparents; his post-college years as a community organizer in Chicago; and a visit he made to Kenya as a young man to meet his African relatives following the 1982 death of his father, who he had seen only once after his parent’s divorce when he was 2.
After being elected the first black president of the influential Harvard Law Review in 1990 while in his second year of law school, Obama was contacted by a literary agent who eventually got him a reported $40,000 advance to write what became “Dreams from My Father.” When the book was published in 1995, Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago and had not yet stepped into the national spotlight. The book received favorable reviews; however, it sold a modest 8,000 to 9,000 hardcover copies and went out of print within several years.
The year after the book’s publication, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate, his first foray into politics. In March 2004, he shot to national prominence by winning the U.S. Senate Democratic primary in Illinois. The publicity generated by his victory prompted a publisher to reissue “Dreams from My Father” in the summer of 2004. Boosted by his well-received keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that July, and his landslide election to the U.S. Senate in November of the same year, “Dreams of My Father” became a best-seller. Reviewers praised the book for its eloquence and candor.
In October 2006, Obama, then a U.S. senator, published his second book, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming America.” Like his first book, “The Audacity of Hope” became a best-seller, and Obama drew crowds at book signings as speculation mounted over whether he would seek the presidency. In February 2007, Obama announced he would run for the White House. When asked about “Dreams from My Father” while on the campaign trail in 2008, he told The New York Times “he was not even thinking about political consequences when he wrote the memoir. In fact, he said, one editor warned him back then that his references to drug use could come back to haunt him—if he were ever nominated for the Supreme Court.”