Mothers and daughters traveled from Hibbing and Duluth, saying they came for a dose of hope and optimism. Granddaughters from Minneapolis joined their grandmothers, excited to hear from a woman they consider an intergenerational role model.
Thousands of Michelle Obama fans filled the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday night for the latest in a series of “intimate conversations” the former first lady has held at arenas and theaters across the country. Attendees danced in their seats and jumped out of them when Obama took the stage to talk about her life and bestselling memoir “Becoming.”
The venue had all the intimacy of a Wild game, but it held a personal connection. Obama said it’s where she found out her husband had enough votes to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, and where the couple’s famous fist-bump happened.
At the beginning of the event, she encouraged people to fist-bump those around them.
“We’re going to be OK,” she told the crowd.
She spent the next hour and a half talking about life, the moments hard and soft. Often she had the audience laughing, sometimes doubled over. She joked about meeting Barack, being a mom, even marriage counseling.
She touched on themes in her memoir, which follows her from her childhood home in Chicago’s South Side to the White House. The book shares her persistent fear of not being good enough, concerns about how her husband’s political life would affect their daughters and the challenge of balancing of her career and ambition with his.
“In this little girl, Michelle Robinson, and her little journey, people all over the world are seeing a bit of them,” she said. “And while this says something about me, I think it says more about us as a people. That if you see yourself in this little girl — and there’s so many of us who do that — then we can see ourselves in each other.”
Several women said they identified with Obama’s story. LaCresha Dotson, a Minneapolis resident who also grew up on the South Side, brought her copy of “Becoming” to the event, hoping for a signature. But beyond that, she said she was hoping Obama could provide an antidote to her political cynicism.
“I am inspired and hoping to be encouraged because I think right now with so much political discord, Michelle Obama really lives her slogan of ‘We go high.’ So I think we can use a little more of that,” Dotson said.
She was there because her daughter scored two free tickets that morning. Most shelled out more than $100, and in some cases more than $1,000, for tickets.
More than two years after she and Barack left the White House, Obama’s celebrity has been evident at book tour stops from Houston to St. Paul.
Earlier Wednesday, journalist Michele Norris, who moderated Wednesday’s event, and Obama met with local book clubs at the Bachelor Farmer restaurant in Minneapolis. They talked about themes in the book, including marriage, motherhood and “swerving” in your career path. In other cities, Obama read to students, talked to high schoolers or met with activists.
She is spending about four months traveling on and off for her second tour since “Becoming” was published in November. It quickly became the top-selling hardcover book of 2018. More than 5.6 million copies have been sold in the U.S. and Canada.
But her story starts, and is steeped in, a world apart from the glamour of an international book tour.
Then-Michelle Robinson grew up in the second floor of her great-aunt’s bungalow, without much money but surrounded by a tight-knit family. Launched by their support and a deep desire to prove herself, Obama earned spots at Princeton University and Harvard Law School. The memoir traces her path from the Ivy League to corporate America and Washington, D.C. In each setting, she navigates systemic racism and the demand that she be twice as good as her white peers.
Most of the book is a personal look at her life and career, and what it’s like to try to make a home of the White House. She touches briefly on President Donald Trump, sharing her frustration when he spread “birther” rumors. For the most part, she avoided talking about the president or future elections Wednesday. When Norris brought up the transition from Obama to Trump, she replied, “Uh oh,” then launched into a comical story about moving out of the White House.
For Minneapolis small businesswoman Amber Senn and some others, the event provided a salve to their political frustrations about Trump. Senn, 49, bought “Becoming” immediately after it came out. When her friend found out the tour was stopping in St. Paul, they snapped up tickets for more than $200. Her one concern was the steep cost, and Senn said she would like Obama to offer some more affordable seats for lower-income people. But for her, it was more than worth it.
“When you think First Lady you always used to think Jacqueline Kennedy. … To me, Michelle Obama is just the picture of the First Lady,” Senn said.