Obama admits a character in his book was a composite sketch

“None of this happened with Genevieve,” Maraniss writes. “She remembered going to the theater only once with Barack, and it was not to see a work by a black playwright. When asked about this decades later, during a White House interview, Obama acknowledged that the scene did not happen with Genevieve.”

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Obama explained to Maraniss that he was compressing characters in the book as a “useful theme” to help explain the interactions he had with people in his life. 

Obama said the event in question did happen, but not with Cook.

“That was an example of compression,” Obama told Maraniss. “I was very sensitive in my book not to write about my girlfriends, partly out of respect for them. So that was a consideration. I thought that [the anecdote involving the reaction of a white girlfriend to the angry black play] was a useful theme to make about sort of the interactions that I had in the relationships with white girlfriends. And so, that occupies, what, two paragraphs in the book? My attitude was it would be dishonest for me not to touch on that at all … so that was an example of sort of, editorially, 'How do I figure that out?' "

Obama did not refer to Cook by name in his book, but described her as a “woman in New York that I loved,” as well as providing some physical details about her.

“She was white,” Obama wrote. “She had dark hair, and specks of green in her eyes. Her voice sounded like a wind chime. We saw each other for almost a year. On the weekends, mostly. Sometimes in her apartment, sometimes in mine. You know how you can fall into your own private world? Just two people, hidden and warm. Your own language. Your own customs. That’s how it was.”

This story was updated at 1:56 p.m.