The editors at Essence magazine have been hard at work this fall on a new tome celebrating first lady Michelle Obama’s life and achievements. A Salute to Michelle Obama, available now in paperback, features an array of images of the first lady punctuated with essays penned by legendary black women. Yet, what makes it special are quotes from African-American female fans of Mrs. Obama interwoven through this compendium of her accomplishments.
“We reached out to women and asked, ‘What do you believe has been the impact of Michelle Obama?'” Patrik Henry Bass, Senior Editor at Essence, told theGrio. He was inundated with streams of enthusiastic praise in response from the Essence audience.
“I was surprised, in a delightful way,” he said of women’s reactions.
As a means of demonstrating the positive reality of black women’s lives, Bass’ team at Essence showcased Michelle Obama as the epitome of their multifaceted natures. This is an important choice during a time in which, for many, “Fun has now been defined by some reality show where someone’s getting a drink poured in their face and getting punched. A lot of margaritas and a fight,” Bass lamented.
Through the Essence community’s reflections on Michelle Obama, he hopes a woman can learn that, “Fun is volunteering. Being active. Fun is spending time with the family. Finding her spirit in church,” as the first lady is shown. “Finding her spirit with the daughters, and reading, and sharing and giving. We wanted to capture that as well.”
The third in a series about the Obama clan, A Salute to Michelle Obama, is distinguished by its focus on the first lady’s impact on both the national and international levels. While the first book focuses on President Obama’s inauguration, the second is about the Obamas in the White House. “So, the third book, naturally, with Essence being the premiere brand for African-American women, zeroed in on Michelle Obama and what her impact has been specifically to black women,” Bass explained.
After starting this project in late August 2012, Bass was able to attract Angela Bassett and Dr. Maya Angelou to contribute. “Once [we had] Angela Bassett and Dr. Maya Angelou, Viola Davis, Lynne Whitfield and so many others came in rather quickly and were quite poetic about what they felt about the impact of Michelle Obama.” Essence editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White is also among the voices of African-American luminaries.
Complementing this star power, Bass believes it is the quotes of women across America that make A Salute to Michelle Obama extra-inspiring.
“One of the editorial decisions that I made early on was to make sure that we heard from real women about what Michelle Obama means to them,” Bass elaborated. “In between passages from Maya Angelou and Iyanla Vanzant, and quotes from Viola Davis and Angela Bassett (and all of those are original quotes), I wanted to hear what Michelle Obama means to everyday black women. Their quotes are inspiring because, although she is a celebrity, she connects so easily with women.”
One woman quoted named Monica C., “nailed exactly what it is about Michelle Obama,” black women love, Bass said: “Her ‘confidence.'” While Essence readers note this as her best accessory, there are many more qualities its audience listed about this beloved leader.
“Her accessibility. Her being Mom-in-Chief,” Bass enumerated. “This woman who manages her mother and her husband and her children and her demanding duties and does it not so much effortlessly — I believe there is some effort there — but based on what you see, and what these real women have pointed out, she gets the job done.
“The job of first lady — she makes it just as much about the individuals that she’s meeting and touching in so many ways, and less about herself,” Bass said appreciatively. “And that’s just… I wish I had it!”
It is because the first lady, despite all her glamour, remains personable to millions that black women see her as their accurate exemplar.
Crafted before the election results came in, A Salute to Michelle Obama is also intended as a timeless testament to Mrs. Obama’s consistency in setting and meeting her goals, ranging from her Let’s Move exercise and nutrition initiative to her work with military families. As an outline of Mrs. Obama’s track record of success formed from quotes by black women, A Salute to Michelle Obama is a colorful narrative telling her story in a way only Essence can.
“I believe that it’s very, very important that we document and chronicle the story of the Obamas from an African-American perspective, because there are going to be so many perspectives on this historic presidency and second term,” the Essence editor said. Bass added, “it’s very, very important to know what black women thought about this time. And it’s better to get it now while it’s still fresh.”
A Salute to Michelle Obama captures her softer side through detailing the first lady’s fashion triumphs and capacity for playfulness. Still, the most important thing for Bass was showing Mrs. Obama, “being active and driving through those issues that she cares about.”
The end result is an extension of the positive mission of this rare publications dedicated to celebrating and highlighting the African-American female perspective.
“When we think about Michelle Obama, she is not a singer, she’s not an actress, she’s not a talk show host, she’s not a CEO, and yet, she represents so much of who the audience, of who the Essence reader, of who black women are — that goes unseen, undocumented, and unrecognized by media,” Bass said. “And so the audience can say, ‘This is who I am.’ I believe that that’s inspiring — to see a reflection, and to see the validation.”
A Salute to Michelle Obama is currently available on newsstands in soft cover. A hardcover version will be published in January 2013.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.